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“Our” divided Illinois

Monday, Feb 11, 2013

* My weekly syndicated newspaper column

Gov. Pat Quinn used the phrase “our Illinois” almost 30 times in one form or another last week during his annual State of the State address.

“In our Illinois, everyone should have access to decent health care,” Quinn said.

“In our Illinois, working people find good jobs, not just for today but for tomorrow.”

“In our Illinois, we find a way to get hard things done.”

In our Illinois, Quinn said, we are a “community of shared values.”

While the phrase was mainly a rhetorical device for a constitutionally mandated annual speech, it’s important to point out that Illinois isn’t really “one” and doesn’t have all that many “shared values.”

“Our Illinois” means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

Imagine trying to govern a state so diverse that it included both Boston and Richmond, Va. Waukegan is about 40 miles north of Chicago at the same latitude as Boston. Cairo, at the southern tip of Illinois, sits at the same latitude as Richmond.

While the Chicago area’s similarities to Bostonian liberalism might be obvious, our state’s history has more in common with Richmond than you might think.

For the first few decades of the 19th century, a state-owned salt works in Saline County in southern Illinois used slave labor and produced almost a third of state government’s revenue. Fights over whether Illinois should become a slave state dominated the General Assembly for years.

These days, southern Illinois politicians closely resemble Kentuckians, or southern Virginians, for that matter.

But our diversity and differences go much further than that.

In Chicago, we have unimaginable wealth next door to some of the worst poverty in the nation.

We have the third-largest city in the nation, substantial suburban sprawl, numerous river- and energy-dependent regions and a vast portion consisting of rural counties with few people in them.

We have Chicago wards that voted almost unanimously for Barack Obama last year, and dozens of downstate counties that almost always vote straight Republican since Abraham Lincoln joined the party.

We have more black residents than any “free” state except New York. And we have some counties that are so “white” that I know some black legislators and lobbyists who are afraid to stop for gas on their way to and from Springfield.

Our industrial capacity is almost unparalleled, yet we grow more corn than any state except Iowa.

Our Republican Party is almost hopelessly divided and nonexistent in Cook County. We have Chicago-area Republicans who openly supported former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and now back Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

We have many downstate residents who believe Chicago is by far the biggest problem in Illinois, and the state would be much better off the city wasn’t part of Illinois.

Many of our southern Illinois Democrats make many suburban Republicans look downright liberal.

Barack Obama won most of those typically Republican suburban counties last year, but he lost Madison County, near St. Louis, even though every other countywide Democratic candidate won there.

Our liberal Democrats are among the most “progressive” in the nation. But there are so many Democratic factions in some Chicago wards that you almost need a passport to cross the street.

The Nov. 6 election produced supermajorities in the Legislature for the Democrats, but those are majorities in party name only. In a year when southern Democrats are pushing hard for a concealed-carry law, the 2nd Congressional District Democratic primary election revolves largely around gun control.

So, while I often get frustrated with the way Pat Quinn governs — and for very good reasons — it’s always important to keep in mind that this state is nearly ungovernable, particularly in these times when people are so sharply divided by just about everything. Consensus among such cultural, ethnic and political diversity is almost impossible to achieve.

None of this means that governing is impossible, however, and this column isn’t meant to excuse any of Quinn’s many shortcomings.

But the next time you think that solving Illinois’ serious problems ought to be easy, remember that nothing has been easy in Illinois for many years.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


44 Comments
  1. - x ace - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:09 am:

    Excellent analysis. ( and some history too }


  2. - Sir Reel - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:20 am:

    Illinois was originally settled by pioneers from the Mid Atlantic states (Carolinas, Virginia, etc.) who migrated westward into the Appalacians, then down the Ohio River (southern Ohio and Indiana, Kentucky, etc.) and then into Illinois from the Ohio and up the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers. These pioneers were generally poor and very independent. I suspect they distrusted government. They influenced Illinois’ values and politics.

    Contrast that settlement pattern with the upper Great Lake states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota). In these states, settlers were more recent immigrants from Scandanavia and northern Europe. These settlers were less independent, having come from countries with monarchies. That could explain those states’ values and politics.

    That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.


  3. - Huh? - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:23 am:

    “In our Illinois, working people find good jobs, not just for today but for tomorrow.”

    So why did I have to go to Kentucky to find a job?


  4. - downstate commissioner - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:27 am:

    Great comment, Rich. The latitude comparison really brought it home to me; the settling of Illinois was, as you said, was really two different groups, with different values-it is amazing that it has worked at all.


  5. - Enemy of the State - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:29 am:

    What would happen to those folks who are afraid to stop for gas between Springfield and Chicagoland if they had to drive to Bone Gap or Anna?

    Rich, you almost framed out the need for two separate states. Or maybe three, or four.


  6. - Mike M - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:42 am:

    Illinois was so much easier to governor when there was plenty of money to throw around.


  7. - Meaningless - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:46 am:

    Excellent article by Rich and some good informative comments. Even though Illinois might have deep divisions in culture and values within the the state, one common bond has been constructed through the plight of the working class and the workers’ unions which have been the heart and soul of the “Middle Class.” It’s no wonder that many modern so-called “progressive” politicians (Republican or Democrat) seek to destroy the unions to advance their political agenda.


  8. - Janet - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:49 am:

    “And we have some counties that are so “white” that I know some black legislators and lobbyists who are afraid to stop for gas on their way to and from Springfield.”

    I can totally relate to this…On the way home from work last week, during the snowstorm, I pulled of the stopped outbound Eisenhower expressway at Western on the west side.

    I was low on gas and was absolutely petrified to stop. I did make it to Oak Park, luckily….


  9. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:53 am:

    Excellent and welcome perspective, Rich.

    Sir Reel, you’re talking out your tuckus.

    I hope you got a piece of Bazooka Joe with that “history book” that informs your opinion.

    Is there not a library in your community, or do you just need someone to read to you?

    This first-generation American of Norwegian stock invites you to bite me for your remarks about the lack of independence of my immigrant folks.

    Sorry we got here late, we had to beat the Nazis first.

    And if you ever do find that library, or someone to read to you, you’ll find out in a hurry that it was the Yankees, those of the Union, that built this country, and they’ve been dragging Johnny Reb kicking and screaming into the Promised Land from jump street.


  10. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:59 am:

    What would be the reason the black legislators and lobbyists who told you they were afraid of stopping for gas, between Chicago and Springfield?

    Are there recent lynchings?
    Over charged for gas?
    Were they attacked?
    Were they insulted?
    Have there been any recent hate crimes?
    Why?

    I’m from the South Suburbs. I buy gas when I need it and I have gotten gas in neighborhoods where businesses have bars over their windows, bullet-proof glass between you and the cashier, drawers that slide between you and the cashier, vagrants hanging around the pumps, drunks checking out the beer selection, and patrol cars rolling by every 30 minutes or so.

    A bunch of Walmart-wearing camo-covered mullet-wearing pick-up driving guys at the local Casey’s scares these guys?

    They must have their staffers pump their cars when they are home because I’m offended that they are thinking Downstate is unfriendly to non-whites anymore than parts of Chicago are unfriendly to whites.

    I expect better from folks in our General Assembly than this. Shame on them for their cowardice and closed-mindedness. As legislators and lobbyists they are empowered to address these issues-that is, if the issues really exist…


  11. - anon sequitor - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 9:59 am:

    Gee, the Thompson and Edgar years now sound like Camelot.


  12. - walkinfool - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:07 am:

    e pluribus unum

    An ideal worth struggling for.


  13. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:08 am:

    Sir Reel, your history is too simple and over generalized. It seemed all you did was give an over stimulated Norwegian a wedgie.

    Wordslinger, you are insulting someone, just to insult. Sir Reel’s 2 plus 2 equals 22 comment isn’t as egregious as yours.

    Talk about divided Illinois…


  14. - Leave a Light on George - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:16 am:

    =Contrast that settlement pattern with the upper Great Lake states (Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota). In these states, settlers were more recent immigrants from Scandanavia and northern Europe.=

    =Sorry we got here late, we had to beat the Nazis first.=

    Pretty sure the Great Lake states were settled before the Nazi’s were around.

    Haven’t been to the library lately either with the internet and all.


  15. - Logic not emotion - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:20 am:

    Very good article. One time I was in Chicago, downstate was brought up and the person admitted they had never been out of Chicago. They didn’t see a reason why they should yet they had strong opinions regarding state governance and why all meetings should be held in Chicago. I pointed out that a friend who worked in deep Southern Illinois could actually drive from her home to Atlanta Georgia faster than she could to Chicago. That helped him gain some perspective.


  16. - Tequila Mockingbird - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:20 am:

    “nearly ungovernable”?
    I thought Madigan has governed for 30 years. Other than that nit, good article.


  17. - PublicServant - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:22 am:

    Kinda blows a hole in the whole “democrats have a supermajority” republican talking point.


  18. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:23 am:

    Sorry, VMan, I know you’re sensitive, and I’ve been trying in my comments to accommodate your fragility.

    There’s really no room for conflict and strong opinion on a blog devoted to Illinois politics.

    Kum-by-yah, daddio.

    But any perceived shot at my peeps is going to get both barrels. Fish swim. Birds fly. That’s the way it is.


  19. - Nieva - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:30 am:

    There once was a small community named Chicago that went to the first state bank in Illinois which was located in Shawneetown Il. They ask for a loan to help their city. The board had a meeting and refused to grant the loan. The said that is was to big of a risk because they were to far from the river to ever to amount to anything. Go there today and most of the people would still tell you the same thing.


  20. - Sir Reel - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:30 am:

    WS, VM et al, it was supposed to be funny. Guess it wasn’t.


  21. - langhorne - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:35 am:

    this may be folklore, but when the state cops took over patrolling interstates in chgo, they temporarily transferred in some troopers from southern illinois. they quickly learned to lock their cars when going into 7-11 for coffee. in five minutes, they could lose a shotgun, briefcase, radios, emergency gear, light bar, or even the whole car.


  22. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 10:40 am:

    The Theme to Illinois’ “Batty Kook” Show
    Sung by Barbie and Ken, enhanced by VanillaMan

    Meet Chicagoans who’s live everywhere
    From Kenilworth to Logan Square
    But Downstate’s only seen the sign
    A guy can get from a duck blind
    What a crazy pair!

    But their Illinoisans
    Illinoisans all the way,
    One pair of matching bookends
    Different as night and day.

    Where Chicagoans root for the Cubs
    Governed by families, dance to dub
    Our Downstaters root for St. Louis teams
    Eat horseshoes and fields and streams
    This states gonna flub!

    Still their Illinoisans,
    Voting together and you’ll find
    They vote for Dems, re-elect Dems
    Then wonder why Illinois’ no gem -
    You can lose your mind

    When Illinoisans are two of a kind!


  23. - Endangered Moderate Species - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:09 am:

    Sir Reel @ 9:20 AM The northern Europeans who settled the northern portion of the State were not less independent, but they did have a higher belief in structured communities driven by public input from community representatives. This is one of the reasons we have the many public boards in our state.

    Meaningless @ 9:46 AM said, “It’s no wonder that many modern so-called “progressive” politicians (Republican or Democrat) seek to destroy the unions to advance their political agenda.”

    What? You will need to articulate a little better if you expect to influence anyone with that viewpoint.


  24. - redleg - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:20 am:

    I live in one of those “so white” counties in Central Illinois and I see plenty of all types of
    folks stopping in to spend money. I’m not saying that kind of fear doesn’t exist today, but I’m not so sure it is justified anymore.

    Maybe the black legislators and lobbyists who express these fears need to get out and talk to their traveling constituency more often. Those less populated counties and villages need that money. At one time their fears might have been justified but imo that time has long passed.


  25. - Pinker - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:24 am:

    Rich - have you actually heard a black rep say something like that?? I can understand some journalistic hyperbole, but if this is legit, it’s a real eye opener


  26. - wordslinger - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:26 am:

    It’s a crying shame that folks don’t explore the state. I’ve been in every nook and crannie — north, south, east and west — and enjoy nothing better than being on the road exploring more.

    I’m a sucker for every historical marker, roadside attraction, daily lunch special and happy hour.


  27. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:31 am:

    === have you actually heard===

    I wouldn’t make that up.


  28. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:35 am:

    Every time someone complains about public policy being too Chicago-centric, I think they ought to be reminded, and we ought to remind ourselves, that there are 50 wards in Chicago, and each of those wards has a population greater than all but 25 counties in the state.

    Put another way, the population of Chicago is greater than 87 counties combined.

    At the same time, for those who think Chicago is the center of the universe, Chicago doesn’t even make the list of the 50 largest cities in the world.

    Sao Paulo and Mexico City make Chicago look like Naperville;

    Lima, Rio De Janiero and Santiago are two to three times Chicago’s size.


  29. - redleg - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:37 am:

    “I wouldn’t make that up”.

    Hello Rich….I believe you and where I don’t get it is what more is needed other than getting the service or goods that they pay for. I never hear of any incidents and if there were surely the local media would be all over it. Why does this fear persist?


  30. - Skirmisher - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    Sir Reel missed noting that the deep division in Illinois goes back to before Lincoln’s time. The northern counties of Illinois were mostly land-grant areas, with land given to War of 1812 and Revolutionary War veterans in lieu of back pay. These land-grant settlers were mainly New Engand and Middle Colony peoples who historically did not like or get along well with the Scots-Irish who settled most of Illinois south of the Illinois River. The divisions were so deep that in April 1861 Republican Governor Yates sent trusted Republican militia from the Chicago area in secret to sieze control of Southern Illinois (And Cairo in particular) before Southern Illinois Democrat militia units said to be gathering in Carbondale could take control and presumably lead a secessionist movement to join the Confederacy. Northern Illinois and Southern Illinois already didn’t like each other, and for most of the reasons that they still don’t like each other.


  31. - Going nuclear - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 11:59 am:

    Sir Reel, if you look at the growing industrial centers of the late 19th century Midwest, you’ll find that newcomers from Germany, Bohemia and Sweden formed much of the labor pool. Many of these immigrants were anti-authoritarian, particularly the Czechs who hated the Habsburg regime and Germans who were refugees of autocratic repression that followed the revolutionary struggles of the mid-1800s.


  32. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:20 pm:

    I’m pretty sure the French were the first Europeans to settle in Illinois. And nobody likes the French, cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys that they are, so the seeds of division were planted very early.

    Oh, and the Illiniwek hated the Iroquois too. I’ve heard that the Illiniwek were so afraid of some counties that we “all Iroquois” that they were afraid to camp too far from French forts and only bought goods from French trading posts. Can you imagine?

    But for some strange reason, as long as there have been people in Illinois, people have been fighting each other here. There must be something here worth fighting for then, right?


  33. - RNUG - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:24 pm:

    Going nuclear @ 11:59 am:

    Being of the Germanic descent whose family emigrated between 1850 and 1880, I would say they were anti-tyranny but not necessarily anti-authoritarian if they believed the authority had a legal basis.


  34. - Bill - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 12:39 pm:

    ==Lima, Rio De Janiero and Santiago are two to three times Chicago’s size.==
    Yeah, but Chicago has more aldermen.


  35. - girllawyer - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:04 pm:

    VanillaMan, do you mean “they’re Illinoisans”?


  36. - Secret Square - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:14 pm:

    “nobody likes the French, cheese-eating-surrender-monkeys that they are”

    Well, back when the French ran the show in Illinois they were not exactly cheese eating surrender monkeys — they were a major superpower. They sent explorers, military, etc. to the “Illinois Country” for some of the same reasons we sent men to the moon: they wanted to get there before the Russkies, er, I mean the Brits and the Spanish, did.


  37. - Oswego Willy - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:37 pm:

    Rich, very thought provoking, thanks for a nice read!

    The divide on ideology, coupled with the Democrats understanding the way to run candidates for districts, allow for the Dems in name to lead, but that diverse Caucus is far from single-minded, like herding the cats, and that is where Pat Quinn is needed in getting the cats in one direction, maybe not in one place.

    Well done, Rich.


  38. - 47th Ward - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:43 pm:

    I was just kidding about the French Secret, to be analagous with today’s regional bickering.

    The French came for the fur. Fur helped Louis the XIV rule and then helped him lose his head. The new French Republic was paid for with American fur and fur funded many of Napolean’s wars. Of course, he ran up some pretty big military bills, resulting in the Louisiana Purchase, but that’s another story.

    “Our divided Illinois” has been this way since the 1600s.


  39. - Rich Miller - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:44 pm:

    ===The French came for the fur.===

    And under our original charter, and well into statehood, the French settlers were allowed to keep their slaves. That generated a ton of animosity among the non-French in Illinois, who demanded that they, too, get to own slaves.


  40. - Six Degrees of Separation - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 2:59 pm:

    “I wouldn’t make that up”.

    In my youth I used to hang out at a gas station along Route 66 (when it was still a busy road and before I-55 was completed). I remember a black customer coming in with a broken timing chain. Let’s just say the proprietors made their money off the guy (I was not part of the scam, and kept my thoughts to myself, but the dishonesty and the attitudes did make an impression on me).

    Fast forward to 2012…I visited a nearby community, and Obama signs outnumbered Romney signs by about 2 to 1. Unthinkable in the old days. I would submit things have changed south of I-80 and north of Springfield; can’t vouch for further south.


  41. - VanillaMan - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:01 pm:

    I spelled it correctly. I fight with Spell-check all the time.


  42. - Going nuclear - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:11 pm:

    @RNUG,

    I probably over generalized. Many Germans that immigrated to Midwest cities joined socialist political organizations. While they railed against industrialists and bankers, some exhibited anarchist tendencies at times.


  43. - Endangered Moderate Species - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 3:25 pm:

    Going Nuclear at 3:11 PM The German migration to Illinois occurred in more than one wave. East Central Illinois experienced one of the last waves of German migration. Most of these immigrants drained the swampy Illinois prairie and developed very conservative views and values.

    You are correct about the immigrants in the cities. They did become members of unions. The Union is where they found protection from the abuses of the large companies, whom were taking advantage of this new labor pool.

    The political values of the 19th Century immigrants were formed more by their experiences in the U.S. and less by what they left behind in Europe.

    Can you detect any comparison with the political views of 21st Century immigrants?


  44. - Just The Way It Is One - Monday, Feb 11, 13 @ 5:30 pm:

    Man! Reading the article was interesting-enough, and, yes, a top-notch analysis about the very unique reality of living in our great, diverse State-and NO doubt about it, it’s a tough place to govern; I’ve always thought the same.And I, too, have been in and thoroughly enjoyed my time experiencing the rich diversity in many a nook and cranny, north, central, east, west, and south, over the years, in the Prairie State. It’s just a shame that more folks withIN “Our Illinois” CAN’T seem to get along better, as evidenced by SO many of the QUITE-let’s say to be positive in outlook-colorful and vibrant Comments above! Ouch! Must be a severe case of Mondayitis in early February!!! I know it’s chilly out, folks, but some, it seems, could benefit still from ingesting a “Chill PILL!”


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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* John Ruhnke
* Gloria Stewart


* How Ray Kroc movie 'The Founder' replicated suburban sites in Georgia
* Crash closes Algonquin Road in Algonquin
* Dawn Patrol: Naperville's Main Street Promenade sold for $88 million
* Inaugural speech is Trump's time to rise to the moment
* More clemency coming after Obama shortens Manning's sentence

* House lawmakers overcome hurdle on key tra...
* Rodney Davis talks funding with Bloomingto...
* The agency that fought Illiana gets a new ...
* Rep. Dold takes educational cruise down Ch...
* Lawmakers decry high turnover rate of VA h...
* CBD Oil, and politics
* Simon considering state Senate bid
* Killer Congressman Tom MacArthur trying to...
* Shutdown? State may not notice
* Rep. Bob Dold

* Sen. Durbin on Rod Blagojevich being commu......

* Former San Bernardino County supervisor te......
* Former San Bernardino County supervisor te......

* Quincy teachers vote to strike.
* Betsy DeVos and the Prince of darkness.
* Keeping Retirement Weird. Senator Biss’ view on pension theft seems to have changed. Activism works.
* Ella’s Song. Toshi Reagon and BIGLovely. Women’s March on Washington version.
* Could Chicago baseball fans wind up rooting for pair of Expos to make Hall?
* GOP state lawmaker calls for Blagojevich's sentence to be shortened
* GOP state lawmaker calls for Obama to shorten Blagojevich's prison sentence
* Chicago Stars Ep. 3 - The World Columbian Exposition // MBMHMC tv
* Thorner & O'Neil: Returning nation to its roots supercedes all else
* Marches for Life in Chicago and Springfield


* Governor Rauner Signs Lead Testing Bill
* Governor Announces Appointments
* Illinois Targeted Violence Prevention Program Receives $187,000 U.S. Department of Homeland Security Grant - Funding will support community training and engagement programs
* Governor Rauner Announces #GovClassroomVisit
* IDoA tips for winter weather preparedness - Health hazards to be aware of during the winter months that could affect older adults




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