Former Gov. Dan Walker dies at 92
Daniel J. Walker was an American lawyer, businessman and Democratic politician from Illinois who was also a Daniel Walker, a flamboyant populist whose political and financial ambitions led him from a corporate boardroom to the Illinois governor’s mansion to the federal penitentiary. He died Wednesday night at the age of 92 He was the 36th Governor of Illinois from 1973 to 1977.
Walker was born in Washington, D.C., the son of Virginia May (Lynch) and Lewis Wesley Walker, who were both from Texas. He was raised near San Diego, California. He was the second Governor of Illinois to graduate from the United States Naval Academy. He served as a naval officer in World War II and the Korean War. A graduate of the Northwestern University School of Law, Walker served as a law clerk for Chief Justice of the United States Fred M. Vinson, and as an aide to Illinois Governor Adlai Stevenson II.
Walker later became an executive for Montgomery Ward while supporting reform politics in Chicago. In 1970, Walker was campaign chairman for the successful U.S. Senate campaign of Adlai Stevenson III (son of Adlai II).
The National Commission on the Causes and Prevention of Violence appointed Walker to head the Chicago Study Team that investigated the violent clashes between police and protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. In December, the team issued its report, Rights in Conflict, better known as the “Walker Report.” The Report became highly controversial, and its author well-known. The report stated that while protesters had deliberately harassed and provoked police, the police had responded with indiscriminate violence against protesters and bystanders, which he described as a “police riot”. The Report charged that many police had committed criminal acts, and condemned the failure to prosecute or even discipline those police. Given the state of affairs today involving police and Black Male civilians Walker’s study was ahead of its time and rather progressive for its time. He stepped out on the limb pointing the finger at police’ criminal behavior.
Walker announced his candidacy for Governor of Illinois in 1971 and attracted wide attention by walking 1,197 miles across Illinois in 1971. He won the 1972 Democratic primary against then-Lieutenant Governor Paul Simon by a narrow margin. Though Simon had a “good government” reputation, Walker attacked Simon for soliciting and accepting the endorsement of the Cook County Democratic Party chaired by Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley, which Walker charged reflected servility to the “Daley Machine.”
In the 1972 general election, he defeated incumbent Republican Richard B. Ogilvie by a 51% to 49% margin. At one point in the early 1970s, Walker had presidential aspirations.
The enmity between Walker and Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley’s political organization was deep. In 1974, Walker supported state legislative candidates against Daley allies.
“We never established anything even approaching a personal rapport. To some degree, this was an obvious and natural result of my independent political activity. But it went deeper – much deeper,” said Walker.
During his tenure, Walker was often at odds with both Republicans and Democrats in the state legislature. He did obtain passage of the first law requiring disclosure of campaign contributions and issued a series of executive orders prohibiting corrupt practices by state employees.
In 1976 lost the democratic primary by a 54% to 46% margin to Secretary of State Michael Howlett, the candidate supported by Mayor Daley. In the general election, Howlett was overwhelmingly defeated by James R. Thompson. A Democrat would not preside over the governorship of the state for the next 26 years, when Rod Blagojevich was elected in 2003.