* From Gov. Pritzker’s budget address…
History can be a cruel exercise in pessimism if you narrow your gaze. But if you widen your vision just a little bit, you will see that the recurring reports from the past have been occasionally dotted with unapologetic optimists who focused on tackling old problems with new ideas and new vigor, reducing the burden for each generation along the way.
One of those unapologetic optimists was Governor Henry Horner, who took office in 1933. It puts the current day in honest perspective to think about the challenges Horner faced.
The Great Depression had just begun…Nearly half of Illinois’ work force was unemployed…Hungry workers were marching on Springfield…Teachers had not received a paycheck in nearly a year…Labor disputes were ending in bloodshed…Banks were shuttering… And to add to it all, floods were sweeping across wide swaths of the state.
Nevertheless, with the daunting nature of the state’s condition, Horner approached his job with optimism, with wit and with a dogged work ethic. In a speech soon after he took office, he said:
“We have got to hurdle a few more obstacles before we are on the broad highway of return to normal conditions. However, the road is clearly in sight.”
Today, that is where we find ourselves again. […]
I mentioned at the beginning of this speech that Henry Horner took office in 1933 at the start of the worst decade of economic decline in US history.
Horner was good friends with Carl Sandburg. They shared a love of all things related to President Lincoln. In the later years of his life, Sandburg granted an interview about his friend Governor Horner, in which he said, “Horner was the real goods…he got to high places without selling his soul.”
Indeed, despite all the economic struggles the state faced during the Great Depression, Horner still managed to increase school funding, institute unemployment insurance and pensions for older Illinoisans, create building programs for state institutions and improve public health services.
He understood that prosperity doesn’t trickle down…it trickles up. When we lift up those who have the least, our boats all rise together.
Horner was a fundamentally optimistic man. He approached his job as governor with a hopeful heart, and he never let that hope diminish under the uncommon burdens of being head of state.
He knew what I know…that the state of our state has always been strong because of the values of our people…not the value of our coffers.
Horner once said: “The only way to carry out any great purpose is not on your shoulders, but in your heart. Carry it on your backs and it may wear you down. Carry it in your hearts and it will lift you up. Thus, the heart strengthens the purpose, and the purpose gives poise and inspiration to the will.”
Like you, I carry the burdens of this state in my heart – and despite the heavy load it lifts me up every day. I share my purpose with you so that it may give poise and inspiration to our collective will – because I know the road ahead is hard, but I think it’s about time we all walk it together.
* The Tribune has some background on Gov. Horner…
A probate judge in Cook County for many years, Horner was a Democrat like Pritzker. Horner became Illinois’ first Jewish governor when he was elected in 1932. His grandfather had been one of the first four Jews to settle in Chicago, 91 years before.
In his speech Wednesday, Pritzker repeated his call for a graduated income tax that will weigh more heavily on the wealthy. Horner also took on a tax issue, successfully pushing in 1933 for a state sales tax, a 3 percent levy that was roundly denounced by business interests. […]
An opponent of patronage and corruption, Horner sparred with powerful Chicago Mayor Edward Kelly. In 1936, Chicago’s Democratic machine sought to defeat Horner, but with strong Downstate support he won re-election. Two years later, a state ticket he supported in the face of machine opposition “triumphed,” the Tribune reported.
But, according to the Tribune, “the successful effort he then made to overcome the bosses cost him his health.” Horner suffered a stroke in 1938, and died while still in office in 1940. He was 61.
Pritzker said he belongs to the same Chicago synagogue that Horner attended: Chicago Sinai Congregation.