Alan Dixon’s term as Secretary of State (1977-1981) is often overshadowed by his later political accomplishments, including two terms as U.S. Senator. A Democrat, Dixon served in all three branches of government – executive, legislative, and judicial – in a 43-year political career. Born July 7, 1927, in Belleville, Illinois, Dixon earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois. His first public office was police magistrate of Belleville, a position he was elected to in 1949 at age 21. Dixon subsequently earned a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis. 1

In 1950, he was elected to the first of six terms in the Illinois House of Representatives. At age 23, he was the youngest member of the General Assembly. Dixon’s service in the House was followed by eight years in the Illinois Senate, from 1963 to 1971. He served on nearly every major commission and committee during his two decades in the legislature. In 1970, Dixon won the first of two terms as State Treasurer and is credited with earning more than $500 million for Illinois taxpayers through wise investment of state funds. 2

Dixon’s 1970 campaign for treasurer was marked by a “dirty tricks” scheme by a future United States politico. During the campaign, 19-year-old Karl Rove, a politically active University of Utah student, used a false identity to gain entry into Dixon’s campaign offices. Once inside, Rove stole a large quantity of letterhead stationery and sent over a thousand bogus invitations to the opening of Dixon’s headquarters, promising “free beer, free food, and a good time for nothing.” The incident did not become publicly known for three years. Rove, the controversial mastermind of the George W. Bush administration, later expressed regret at the incident, calling it a “youthful prank.” 3

In 1976, Dixon successfully ran for Secretary of State, two years before his Treasurer’s term ended. Fearful that the outgoing and widely unpopular Governor Dan Walker would appoint himself or another as Treasurer, Dixon approached Governor-elect Jim Thompson with a deal. Under the terms, Dixon would resign after Thompson’s inauguration if the Governor agreed to Dixon’s choice as a successor. Dixon chose Donald R. Smith, a Republican and ranking civil service employee in the Treasurer’s office, who agreed not to run for re-election. 4

After one term as Secretary of State, Dixon successfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1980 and won re-election in 1986. However, Dixon was surprised in the 1992 primary by Carol Moseley Braun, a relatively unknown African-American state legislator who opposed Dixon’s support of Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas, an appointment marred by charges of prior sexual harassment. Braun eventually prevailed in the 1992 general election, becoming the first African-American female member of the U.S. Senate. 5

After leaving the Senate, Dixon chaired the Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission from October 1994 to August 1995. He also resumed his law practice and currently lives in Fairview Heights, Illinois. 6

  1. Howlett 175.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Washington Post July 23, 1999.
  5. Ibid.
  6.; Washington Post Aug. 16, 2005.