By Scott Reeder -
SPRINGFIELD – As soon as the Brits voted to depart from European the Union, I began listening for the first rumblings of discontent in Illinois.
You know what I’m talking about: Should Chicago and the rest of the state part ways?
There are plenty of downstaters who would just as soon see Chicago depart the Land of Lincoln. And hey, I know more than a few Chicagoans who view Downstate as a parasite leaching away a great city’s life blood.
In case you are wondering, I’m using a political scientist definition of downstate – not a geographer’s. Downstate in a political sense is anyplace in Illinois that is not part of Chicago or its suburbs. Even northern Illinois communities like Rockford, Ottawa, Kankakee and Freeport are considered “downstate.“
The deep-seeded political animosity has been around for more than a century. And while some political commentators have written off downstate antipathy toward Chicago as being racial in nature, I disagree.
The political divide long predates the great migration of southern blacks to northern industrial cities such as Chicago. The divide is more cultural than racial.
When someone in Southern Illinois thinks of coal, it’s a source of jobs. For Chicagoans, it’s a source of pollution.
For many downstaters guns represent a source of recreation. For many Chicagoans they are viewed as a source of danger.
And let’s be honest. Chicago has a long history not only of political corruption but of flexing a unified political muscle.
Downstaters are many fine things. But politically united they are not.
For decades they have complained about getting whacked on their collective political noggins by their neighbors to the north. And downstate voters have come to resent the political successes Chicago lawmakers have scored in Springfield along with a certain arrogance that has accompanied it.
Folks in Springfield are still grumbling about Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn refusing to live in Springfield. They viewed it as a snub, which it was.
By the way, these intrastate rivalries are hardly unique to Illinois. When I was reporter in Nevada, the same animosity could be detected between Las Vegas and the rest of the state.
When I spoke to the Alaska Press Club a decade ago, reporters were complaining that their then unknown governor, Sarah Palin, was spending too much time in Anchorage and snubbing Juneau, the state capital.
For decades I’ve seen politicians stir up Illinois regional rivalries for their own political gain.
I’m disappointed Gov. Bruce Rauner, who I generally agree with on policy issues, is doing the same thing.
Rauner has been tromping around downstate telling audiences that he doesn’t want their hard-earned tax dollars to get taxed away and sent to the “Chicago Political Machine.”
I agree we should not pour more tax dollars into that sump hole without first getting reform. But exasperating the state’s long simmering cultural and geographic animosities isn’t going to make for a better state. And might I add, you don’t get any more “downstate” than me.
I grew on a hog farm near Galesburg. I drive a pickup. I like guns. And I’m uncomfortable in traffic.
But that doesn’t mean I hate Chicago.
When Congress made Illinois a state in 1818, it was for better or worse. We’re stuck with each other. It may be a bad marriage, but it is a marriage nonetheless.
Rather than pointing fingers, we should be uniting behind solving the state’s staggering problems: a massive debt, a moribund economy and political culture that resists reform.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and can be reached at ScottReeder1965@gmail.com.