Downstate Illinoisans rebelling against Chicago domination
Once you get outside Chicago and the "collar counties" that surround it, Illinois is much like any other midwestern state; fairly conservative socially, moderately conservative economically, and as patriotic as any other residents in small towns elsewhere in the heartland.
But with roughly half the population in the state concentrated in the Chicago metro area, few Republicans can win statewide. The Democratic machine in Cook County routinely racks up 65-70% of the vote for Democrats making it an uphill climb for any GOP candidate running statewide. Smaller, but significant Democratic party majorities can also be found in Dupage and Will counties.
These political facts of life are known to every Republican downstate. And there now appears to be a mad plan in the legislature to sever Chicago from the rest of Illinois and with it, much of the corruption and liberal politics that dominate state government.
Chicago pols control almost all seats of power in Illinois. Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Mike Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Secretary of State Jesse White are all Democrats from Chicago. So was former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who this month was sentenced to 14 years in prison for corruption, including trying to sell President Obama's vacated seat in the U.S. Senate. Consequently, as Mr. Wooters says, a lot "of the money that we have down here goes up there to bail out Chicago."
In 2008, lawmakers in Springfield cobbled together a $530 million rescue package for Chicago's transit system, which was on the brink of collapse because of sky-high labor and legacy costs. Just this week they pushed through $300 million of tax credits for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Chicago Board Options Exchange and Sears to prevent the businesses from fleeing to lower-tax climes. Both Indiana and Ohio have been aggressively poaching Illinois businesses, especially since January, when lawmakers raised the state income tax to a flat 5% from 3% and the corporate tax to 9.5% from 7.3%.
But is booting Chicago from the state a feasible answer? It might win GOP lawmakers some points with conservative constituents, but it's no more likely to happen than the dream of some Californians to partition the Golden State in two. The division would require the approval of the state legislature, Congress and the people of Chicago.
Illinois Republicans would be better off spending their time devising a strategy to win the statehouse and governorship. The first step would be to educate the public about the state's problems and about how Republicans and Democrats differ in their proposed solutions. And while Chicago might be a lost cause for them, Republicans would do well to target their message at the Cook County suburbs, where most statewide elections are won and lost.
The Illinois GOP has moved to the right over the last few elections, but even downstate is hardly a bastion of conservatism. The idea that conservatives would dominate if Chicago wasn't part of Illinois is not supported by the facts. Besides, as the article mentions, the key to the GOP winning more elections is in working hard to educate the public about the mess the Democrats have made of the state.
Chicago isn't going anywhere.