Understanding Illinois: Rauner-Madigan: We Continue to Weep for Illinois

Nowlan•June 8, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

In recent years I have been on the outer fringe of the periphery of Illinois politics and government. To refresh myself, I spent the last two days of the recent legislative session haunting the corridors of our stately capitol.

I talked with former college students of mine who are now senators, reps, lobbyists and agency officials throughout the bureaucracy.

Frustration isn’t a big enough word to capture their overall mood. Despondency, with all hopes for a better day slipping away, says it better.

Everyone in the capitol except for Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan will tell you, if some must do so off the record, that this second year without a state budget is hurting the state down to its foundations.

These alpha males are locked in a now highly personal death struggle that blocks out consideration of anything but political victory and, each hopes, vindication that all the state has suffered will have been worth it.

Even when a budget is enacted, the well will be so poisoned that constructive, far-sighted policymaking may be impossible until both men are gone from the scene. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Illinois GOP and Trump: Denial, Grieving, Acceptance

Nowlan•June 1, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I covered the Illinois Republican State Convention this past weekend [or “recently”; meeting was May 20-21] in Peoria. I have been to many such over the decades as a delegate. I offer here a few items from the confab and a few observations.

What goes on at a state party convention, you might ask?

Not much, I might respond, yet that would be unfair.

Prior to our primary elections instituted a century ago during the Progressive Era, party convention delegates named candidates for state offices. Lacking that responsibility, there is little substantive business at conventions today.

Yet the affair brings together a thousand folks from all over the state. This gives party leaders an opportunity to gauge the mood of the party faithful before the November election, to reassure them about their party’s great potential and to provide training on how to maximize the vote.

The night before the floor session delegates grazed the hospitality rooms sponsored by officials to gossip and find out what people really think.

Before the Saturday general session in the ballroom of the Peoria Civic Center, vendors in the corridors hawked buttons and apparel that proclaimed the positive (Make America Great Again) and the profane (Trump the Bitch). Read More

Growing Up In Sullivan: Antiquated Modes of Communicating

Ginther•May 18, 2016•

By Jerry L. Ginther
NP Columnist

The landline telegraph was, in its day, the fastest and most dependable mode of communication available. Used by companies such as Western Union for sending messages known as telegrams over long distances, it became a large and profitable business especially for urgent matters. The newspapers also made use of this rapid method of disseminating their breaking news stories across the continent in a matter of minutes, where prior to its use news traveled very slowly, taking days to reach distant locations.

Telegraph offices were located mostly in railroad depots in every town along the tracks. At its inception, the railroads were the primary providers and users of this communication system, using it for their daily operation to know the location of each train on their lines. The station operator would telegraph the arrival and departure of the trains to a dispatcher, thereby providing him with the information needed to arrange meeting points between opposing trains.

With the advent of the landline telephone system, the telegraph became less and less used as a speedy method for transmitting messages for the public but was still relied upon heavily by newswire services, railroads and even for large operations occupying several floors in the same building, such as the stock exchanges. These businesses used a closed circuit telegraph system within the building they occupied. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Boy, Do We Ever Need “Dealmakers” Now

Nowlan•May 18, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

Veteran newsman Bob Hartley has drawn generally affectionate portraits of three large-in-life, colorful southern Illinois politicians from the mid-20th Century in “The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois” (SIU Press, 2016).

There may be some lessons for pols today.

Until one man-one vote districting in the 1960s, deep southern Illinois often dominated Illinois politics. Today the great swath of the Prairie State south of I-70, the only identifiable region of our state outside Chicago, doesn’t even claim its own congressman, the population-starved region carved up to serve interests farther north.

Yet in chronicling the lives of John Stelle (McLeansboro, pop. 2,000), Paul Powell (Vienna, 1,700) and Clyde Choate (Anna, 5,000), Hartley brings to the fore an era in which it was quite okay for ambitious men to do well for themselves in politics while doing good for their voters back home.

Southern Illinois has always been hard scrabble, many folks without two nickels to rub together. The soil is generally thin, and the copious amounts of coal (and maybe oil and gas from future fracking) poured forth bittersweet dividends of dangerous but decent jobs, murderous labor conflict and environmental degradation.

So political jobs and government largesse have always been more important in that region than elsewhere in Illinois. Read More

Letter to the Editor 5-11-2016

To the Editor,

Startrek IV, The Voyage Home, includes a scene with Spock’s mother asking him, “Does the good of many outweigh the good of one?”

To which Spock replies, “I would accept that as an axiom.” His mother went to explain that he was alive because his friends considered that, in rescuing him, the good of the one (Spock) was more important that them.

On Friday, April 22, 2016, Eastern Illinois University hosted Area 9 Spring Games Special Olympics. This being the first time I have attended one of these events, I thought it would be a long day of waiting to watch my special person in her events.

However, it turned into a day of unanticipated excitement for all the participants and a surprising appreciation and new found respect for the many, many volunteers in their dedication and hard work. Read More

Oh Brother: Stupid Tricks are Hard to Forget

MikeBrothers•May 11, 2016•

By Mike Brothers
NP Managing Editor

It happened one spring day deep in the Shawnee Forest some 40 years ago, but stupid human tricks are impossible to forget.

I grew up in southern Illinois where 250,000 acres of the state are covered in the nationally owned Shawnee National Forest.

It was a land of limited population and maximum forestation so I spent most of my youth using the National Forest as a playground for camping, hiking, exploring and the most fun: trail riding motorcycles.

Before massive restrictions gave those forest trails to the powerful horseback lobby during the eighties, my friends and I enjoyed endless hours of riding trails up and down the Shawnee hills, jumping rocks and splashing through creeks.

For several years I had an old Suzuki I had bought for $150 because it didn’t run. After getting it going and painting it, I became a trail riding fool.

The messier the weather the more fun the riding because when you are in your 20s you are invincible; there is no such thing as danger. Read More

Understanding Illinois: Can Illinois be salvaged?

Nowlan•May 11, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

A reader asked: “Can Illinois be salvaged?”

I take it he wonders if our state can stem its population out-flow, return to an economic growth rate comparable to that of the nation, and get a handle on our huge state debt and pension albatross.

To this, I think the answer is Yes, but it will take a number of years and concerted effort by leaders of both parties.

If he meant, can Illinois return to the old days of good-paying factory jobs for all who want them, the answer is clearly No. We live in a new world. Such jobs are evaporating, largely because of technology.

I will have to reprise elements from various earlier columns to respond to the reader.

Illinois is at its lowest point in my 74 years. As I pointed out recently, Illinois suffers from decades long net out-migration of its population and persistent slower economic growth than for the nation and, even more worrisome, among our neighboring states as well.

Some of this was maybe to have been expected. The blistering Sunbelt has air conditioning it lacked when I was a tyke, and Illinois always had a larger manufacturing base than most states, so the other states suffered less loss over the years.
Read More

Understanding Illinois: Reflections From Crumbling Cuba

Nowlan•May 4, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

I just returned from two weeks in Cuba and offer a few reflections from the land of Fidelismo.

Individual travel from the U.S. to Cuba is still technically prohibited, though American educational and professional groups may visit the island nation. Soon, I predict, American travel restrictions will be lifted, which will overwhelm the already strained hospitality resources of Cuba.

If you can withstand stressful long lines at entry and departure, it’s well worth the effort.

(The Cubans we met are pleasant, helpful and handsome, often a caramel blend of Spanish and former slave black. The indigenous population was killed off by the conquistadores upon their arrival.)

My lady friend is a medical scientist at the Mayo Clinics. She was asked to give a paper in Cuba at an international conference. My cover for tagging along was to serve as her “research assistant.”

After the conference, we traveled on our own all over big swaths of this verdant, tropical island nation of 11 million, which has roughly the land area of our state (with our 13 million people). Read More

Understanding Illinois: Are Illinoisans Leaving by the Droves?

Nowlan•April 27, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

More than a couple of my acquaintances have told me in recent months they plan to leave our state as soon as they can. And now a Chicago Tribune story reports that 3,000 “millionaires” (net worth not including primary residence) left that city last year on a net basis, more than any city in the nation.

What’s going on? As your faithful inquiring columnist, I looked into matters.

In the latter half of the 19th Century, Chicago and Illinois were for a while the fastest growing jurisdictions in the world.

Great swaths of fecund farmland beckoned settlers, and Chicago entrepreneurs such as Swift and Armour employed thousands in butchering livestock and marketing our products to the world. [For a marvelous history of the countryside-city synergy, see William Cronon’s masterful work about “Nature’s Metropolis.”]

Yet since the 1920s, Illinois has suffered domestic net out-migration almost every year of folks (more U.S. residents moving out than in, net), with the rate ratcheting up in the 1970-80s to almost one percent net outflow per year and once again to that rate since 2010.

This is according to talented researchers Mike Klemens and Natalie Davila, who recently sliced and diced our national demographic trends, especially as they apply to the Prairie State.

Using IRS data, Klemens and Davila find that in 2012-13 there was a net loss of 10,500 IRS tax exemptions to Texas followed by 7,700 to Florida and 8,500 combined to California and Arizona. Read More

Understanding Illinois: In Illinois, It’s All About “King of the Hill”

Nowlan•April 20, 2016•

By Jim Nowlan
NP Guest Columnist

When I was a kid, we played a game called “king of the hill.” One boy at the top of a heap of some sort would fend off others who tried to pull him down and replace him.

That’s pretty much the game of life as well. Our DNA, forged millennia ago, drives us still today to play king of the hill.

Media mogul Ted Turner said that money is how we keep score of who is winning in this game of life. And so it is in Illinois, its government and politics, always individualistic in the extreme.

This self-interest has led to our current budget impasse.

On the one side, we have Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a small government guy (an insider tells me the governor has staff around him who “hate government”). Rauner and his uber-wealthy friends want to whack government because they see it as needlessly draining wealth from the individual.

In sharp contrast, many Democrats such as House speaker Mike Madigan are career politicians quite comfortable with government. Indeed, many have increased their wealth through government.

For example, for almost half a century Madigan has been piling up money at his property tax appeal law firm, as deep-pocketed clients have come to him almost solely because of the speaker’s role as a political power broker. Read More