Chicago is known as the Windy City, not because of its weather but for its blustery politicians. Among those tempestuous statesmen is the prison-bound former governor, Rod Blagojevich (“Remember the Mane!”).
During his six stormy years in office, the boyish-faced Democrat refused to take up residence in the governor’s mansion in Springfield, the state’s capital.
Instead, the man once named “America’s least popular governor” commuted from Chicago, where his 3,800-square foot home is now on the market for $998,000.
Well, two downstate Illinoisans, who happened to be Republican legislators, say they’ve had enough of Chicago and its snooty, city-centric politicians. Make Chicago the nation’s 51st state, they say, and let the rest of Illinois be.
“Downstate families are tired of Chicago dictating its views to the rest of us,” state Rep. Bill Mitchell said at a news conference. “The old adage is true — just outside Chicago, there’s a place called Illinois.”
Mitchell is from Forsyth, a central Illinois village of 2,400. He’s receiving support from Rep. Adam Brown of nearby Decatur, dubbed the “Soybean Capital of the World.”
Both towns are in Macon County, where Abraham Lincoln first lived in Illinois when his family moved from Indiana in 1830. In 1844 Lincoln and his wife, Mary, bought a home in downtown Springfield, where three of their four sons were born.
According to census data, the population of Illinois is 12.8 million. Chicago accounts for nearly 2.7 million people (down from a peak of 3.62 million in 1950), and Cook County (Chicago area) boasts more than 5 million.
That means the city alone is bigger than Alaska, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.
Having lived in Illinois, both downstate and in Chicago, I know that state politics are almost always dominated by Chicago’s needs, wants and political egos. Some observers claim that downstaters want to break away from Chicago because of values — not politics.
People outside the city are “generally more conservative, and more opposed to the state’s recent income tax hike, civil unions law and abolishment of the death penalty,” reported the Associated Press.
It’s true that central and southern Illinois are conservative, and it’s especially true of the two spotlight-seeking Republican legislators proposing this nonsense (which may or may not be tongue-in-cheek). Whatever the case, it’s clear these two fellas feel more akin to GOP-loving Indiana than the “liberal” city folk up north.
(For the record, I’m from a small town. We’re not all anti-city, anti-liberal yokels.)
But other things are at play in Illinois. The resentment of non-Chicagoans is rooted in money, mainly seeing tax dollars sucked into the projects that seemingly only impact Chicago, a city of perpetual financial crises and horrific crime.
Even so, Chicago is the state’s cash cow. Breaking away from its big-city bonanza means the future for the rest of Illinois could turn out much like Blagojevich’s — bleak and confining.
* * *
Susan Hogan is a Star Tribune editorial writer.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.