James R. Thompson

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james R. Thompson

James Robert Thompson (born May 8, 1936), also known as "Big Jim Thompson", was the longest-serving Governor of the U.S. state of Illinois. A Republican, he held office for almost 14 years, from 1977 to 1991. From 2003 to 2004, he served on the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9-11 Commission).

Before becoming governor, he worked in the Cook County state's attorney's office, taught at Northwestern University's law school, and served as United States Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois. As a federal prosecutor in the early 1970s, he obtained a conviction against former Governor Otto Kerner for his use of improper influence on behalf of the racetrack industry. This high-profile case gave Thompson the celebrity which helped his run for governor in 1976.

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The official portrait of Gov. Jim Thompson, R-Illinois, hangs in the Illinois State Capitol

In the 1976 election, he won 65 percent of the vote over Democratic Secretary of State Michael Howlett. Thompson was reelected in 1978 with 60 percent of the vote, defeating State Superintendent Michael Bakalis. In the next election, Thomspon was very narrowly reelected in 1982 against former U.S. Senator Adlai E. Stevenson III, and then won decisively against him in a rematch four years later.

From 2003 to 2004 he served on the 9/11 Commission, where he aggressively questioned Richard Clarke. Thompson is the head of a law firm that lobbies for American Airlines, and he has previously represented United Airlines. Some critics believe this may prevent him from impartially deciding whether these airlines were negligent in the attack. He is also a director and head of the Audit Committee for Hollinger International, the media company founded by Conrad Black and now the subject of an SEC investigation.

Thompson, along with his gubernatorial successor Jim Edgar and state treasurer Judy Baar Topinka, are frequently criticized by the far-right voter base of the Illinois Republican Party for being too "moderate" or "liberal." These activists believe that the still-popular figures attempt to ape Democrats and are responsible for the party's recent statewide decline. For his part, Thompson has little use for the far-right wing and publicly stated that he would not vote for the poster child of this movement, 2004 GOP US Senate candidate Alan Keyes.

Since 1993, Thompson has served as chairman and CEO of Winston & Strawn LLP, a prestigious Chicago law firm. In 2003 he received the Justice John Paul Stevens Award for a "career that exemplifies the highest standards of the legal profession." As chairman and CEO of Winston & Strawn, Thompson practices in the area of government relations and regulatory affairs as well as in international and domestic corporate and litigation matters. In 1997 and 2000, The National Law Journal named Thompson as one of the nation's 100 most influential lawyers.

Winston and Strawn is the same firm that is representing former Governor George Ryan against federal charges relating to the "License-for-Bribe" scandal during Ryan's tenure as Illinois Governor and Secretary of State.

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Preceded by:
Daniel Walker
Governor of Illinois
1977-1991
Succeeded by:
Jim Edgar

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