How Chicago politics hurts small-town Illinois

Dan Proft Aug. 23, 2009, 6:42am

In my career in politics and government, I have had the opportunity to visit and meet people from every corner of this state.

Although I grew up in the far western suburb of Wheaton and spend most of my professional time in Cook and the collar counties, my experience has taught me that there is a lot Chicagoans have to learn about their own state. Today I leave for the Illinois State Fair in Springfield, and would like to share some of the things I've learned over the years from friends across the state.

The 9 Chicago Democrats, who live within a few miles of one another, make policies and backroom deals that drive population out, crush small and medium-sized business, and make it unattractive to practice medicine in Illinois (at least relative to neighboring states). To those Chicagoans who think state government corruption is just an entertaining side show, take a moment to see what it means to your fellow Illinoisans.

The true cost of a diminishing population: In the last decade, 736,000 more people have left Illinois than moved in. While the loss of a few thousand people in Chicago is not immediately noticeable, what about smaller communities, like Carl Sandburg's home town, Galesburg, which has lost 2,600 people since 2000?

In 2004, Maytag and Butler closed their plants in Galesburg and left town. Maytag employed 2,400 people in Galesburg, 8 percent of the town's population. Butler employed 900 people. In 2007, the U.S. Census listed Galesburg as the third fastest shrinking larger city in the state.

And neighboring cities have been similarly affected by the plant closures; the town of Roseville has seen an 8.68 percent drop in population; Knoxville a 7.85 percent drop; and Monmouth a 7.54 percent drop. All across central and southern Illinois, towns are dying as folks pack up and move to a state where the opportunities to get ahead are more promising and a decent quality of life is more affordable. These towns can't afford to lose people, but that's exactly what's been happening with the Chicago 9 in power.

The true cost of businesses leaving: Illinois ranks 48th in the nation in economic performance. This is a terrible statistic, but when a Chicagoan gets laid off, he has many more options than does a resident in a smaller community. Take Peoria for example, headquarters of Caterpillar.

The global company has been slowly decreasing its production in Illinois and increasing it in lower-cost, better-governed states like Texas. In other words, Caterpillar is opening plants, just not in Illinois.

When a new Caterpillar assembly-line plant opens in San Antonio later this year, 800 Peorians will be out of work. When Caterpillar opens a new a new 700,000-square-foot, $140 million motor grader facility in North Little Rock, Ark., next year, 600 workers in Decatur will lose their job.

When the Chicago 9 make the cost of doing business too hard in Illinois, companies like Caterpillar pick up and move elsewhere. While that might mean little to your average Chicagoan, it means quite a bit for folks in Peoria and Decatur.

The true cost of doctors fleeing the state: In Chicago, when your doctor picks up and moves, you have several dozen more doctors and specialists to choose from. When your local hospital closes, it may mean you need to travel a little farther for emergency care. In a smaller community, it may cost you your life.

In Madison County, regularly listed as a "Judicial Hellhole" by the American Tort Reform Association, the trial lawyers who bankroll the Chicago 9 know they can sue doctors with impunity, reaping millions of dollars with no thought to what this might do to people's health care.

So what, a Chicagoan might ask? Well, the trial lawyers have succeeded in suing neurosurgeons right out of the state.

South of Springfield, there is not one neurosurgeon to service all of southern Illinois. Consider that fact for a moment: from Springfield for a distance of 150 miles to the south, 100 miles to the east, and 100 miles to the west, there is no one qualified to perform brain surgery. That means if someone gets into a car accident in southern Illinois and suffers a brain injury, they have to be airlifted to St. Louis or Paducah, Ky.

The loss of population, the loss of jobs, and the loss of health care means the loss of a way of life. Everything these Illinoisans built; all the things that give life meaning -- the schools, the businesses, the churches and the gathering places -- are all under threat by the policies of the Chicago 9.

There are many things Chicagoans need to know about this state. Big cities are better able to withstand downturns in the economy, which means that what might be an annoyance to a Chicagoan is catastrophic to a small town.

Michael Madigan and the rest of the Chicago 9 are not stupid. They know these depressing statistics, but they also know that their reliable, dependent constituencies and patronage armies in Chicago and the collar counties have given them just enough votes to overcome voters in the rest of the state.

It's the Chicago 9 who don't care what their policies are doing to the rest of the state, so long as they are able to keep buying votes in and around Chicago.

For too long, the Chicago 9 have implemented policies that have decimated the economic livelihoods of everyone who doesn't live in Chicago or the collar counties. Because they can, and because Republicans have let them get away it.

My campaign is for the people who play by the rules but suffer the most from the Chicago 9's failed policies, and nowhere will you find more people who play by the rules than in the heart of Illinois. There is an entire state south of Chicago.

My campaign is for the millions of Illinoisans who still live there.

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