* If you want to see what a successful Illinois Republican is - not some ideologically embittered hyperpartisan - then you have to go no further than Big Jim Thompson.
Elected four times as governor, Thompson embodied Illinois Republicanism. Tough, accomplished, governing-focused and pro-business but with a decidedly humane and moderate face.
Thompson spoke this month to the World Presidents’ Organization/Young Presidents’ Organization Chicago Chapter forum and part of his speech has been transcribed. We ran some excerpts the other day, but I strongly urge you to read the whole thing now. This guy still has it…
We need to improve the business climate in the state of Illinois because we need to increase employment in the state of Illinois. There is no sounder reason to increase employment and to drive down the cost to the state of Illinois of pensions and pension reform than more jobs in this state. Two million people in a population of 12.8 million, 2 million people in the state of Illinois are on food stamps. Two million, Why? Because they don’t have jobs that can support themselves and their family. They don’t have enough money to buy food, so they’re on food stamps.
Now we’ve got a choice. We can continue all those people on food stamps and just push (them) away, put them behind the curtain, don’t think about them. Or we can work to increase the business climate in this state to provide the jobs that will start taking people off food stamps and off welfare and off government assistance.
Thompson, unlike so many modern “conservatives,” did not demonize the poor and heap condemnations upon them He fervently wants to help them with the only hand up that really matters: A decent job.
* But he’s no automatic mouthpiece for big business, either…
We’ve got to scour the tax code of this state, get rid of wasteful tax expenditures, or have a rational tax policy that encourages business and its growth in this state. And you can tell the difference. And yes, various businesses will come and say, “But keep mine.” OK. That happens all the time. But the governor and the legislature can decide who’s right in that one. Academics can help them decide who’s right in that one., Economists can help them decide who’s right in that one. You don’t have to listen to every special plea no matter where it’s from. But if we’re not constantly looking at our tax policy, looking at our unemployment compensation policy, looking at our workers’ compensation policy to make this state a haven for business and send those carpetbaggers from Wisconsin and Indiana and Iowa and Mississippi and Alabama and Texas back to their own states. Thank you very much, we’ve got just as good a business climate in Illinois as any that you can conjure up to make our people move. If we don’t put our efforts behind that, if we don’t link it to government expenditures beginning with pension reform, we are going to be in even bigger trouble.
* And he wants us to think big, like he did back in the day…
We need to substantially repair Illinois’ infrastructure. The governor is going to hope to sell $800 million in bonds shortly that would go for capital projects, infrastructure. It’s not enough. It’s not enough. […]
Look, I used to be proud to say that Illinois was the transportation center of the world. And it was literally true. What’s the largest economy in the world? The United States. What state has more components of a transportation system than any other? Illinois. Sitting in the heart of the nation. Criss-crossed by Interstate highways north, south, east, west. The Mississippi River flowing down, the Illinois River. Railroads running into the state and out of the state. Illinois in Lincoln’s time was the jumping-off place for the railroads to go west, To bring the finished goods from eastern and Midwestern factories out to the West and to bring the grain and the beef back. We still occupy that position even though the cargo that we carry may be different now.
O’Hare until just recently was the busiest airport in the world. Now, if the United States is the largest economy in the world and if Illinois has more transportation components than any other state, then Illinois is literally the transportation capital of the world and we ought to act like it and keep that system in repair. Because when you talk about the economy of this state you have to pay very close attention to what I call the economic backbone. Of the state. What do I mean by that?
The transportation system, obviously. The ability to get the employees to and from work. The ability to get goods out of your factory to where you’re sending them across the world. The ability to get raw materials in to aid in your process of manufacturing. If we don’t have a good, decent transportation system, we will never have a strong economy and won’t have the jobs we want.
* Thomspon also took a swipe at Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Gov. Pat Quinn when he made this point about utility infrastructure…
A lot of politicians like to pick on the utilities. Our electric utilities. Our telephone systems. Well that’s all well and good. An attorney general can be the people’s lawyer and bash the utilities and oppose rate hikes and try to hold down profit. I mean, the list is endless.
But governors, governors responsible for the economic climate of the state have to ensure that our utilities as well as our transportation system are doing their job. That our utilities are strong, technologically advanced and dependable. And you can’t have a utilitly system, whether it’s phones or electricity or gas, that’s strong, technologically advanced and dependable if you are consistently trying to starve it in the name of consumers or customers. That’s why the job of attorney general and governor are different. Very different.
* And he made an excellent point about cleaning up government…
And we have to scour the state budget to end the boondoggles. I know everybody decries the boondoggles. The press likes to expose them. Grants going to community organizations that turn out to be just for the private profit of those who are running them. Look, it’s not a lot of money. The state budget is $35 billion. Stuff like that is in the millions. Small potatoes. But what it is, it says something about the credibility of the state. It says something about the credibility of state government if you’re wasting money.
I know that candidates’ favorite refrain is “fraud, waste and abuse.” They’re going to end fraud, waste and abuse and then when they get elected it’s the last you ever hear about it, and they start participating in fraud, waste and abuse. And I’m not here to tell you, as some politicians have before me, that if we cut fraud, waste and abuse we can cut taxes and don’t have to spend as much. That’s all wrong. It’s wrong. That’s such a miniscule part of the state government that makes no difference except that it debases state government. And people feel less about their state government when they read something like that in a newspaper and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t get rid of it.
* Another invaluable insight…
The point is, people in Illinois — and in other states; we’re not the only ones – the point is that people in this state have allowed things to go so far that they think they can get away with anything. And they have. They have. And let’s stop pointing fingers about who’s responsible for this, the legislature, the governor, the public employees – it’s irrelevant. They’re all responsible. And we’re all responsible.
Right freaking on.
Yeah, he made his share of mistakes, kicked his share of cans down the road. I could give you a very long list of all of that. But, man, the dude was a giant, and he loved every square inch of this state and had the skills to make his visions a reality.
This used to be a great state. We still are in many respects, but we’ve slipped partly because we’ve completely lost our confidence - and for good reason. Too many clueless governors and voters. Too much inertia, partisan and otherwise. Not enough vision.
I don’t know about you, but, personally, I’d vote for Big Jim if he ran again. This is exactly the sort of leader we so desperately need in Illinois right now.