Year in Review: Sun sets on 2018 for One Illinois

From Rauner-Pritzker to a tug-of-war across the Mississippi to ribs and horseshoes to abundant eagles, what we saw, what we covered, what we ate in our first year as a statewide news outlet

The sun is setting on 2018 for Illinois and its new statewide news outlet. (Ted Cox/One Illinois)

The sun is setting on 2018 for Illinois and its new statewide news outlet. (Ted Cox/One Illinois)

By Ted Cox

At One Illinois, we’ll grant that it’s been a difficult, challenging year for many people. But we also have to insist it’s been a thrilling, exciting, landmark year.

If only because it’s been our first.

The year 2018 began with Chicago Alderman Ameya Pawar, a former candidate for governor, making plans for a new statewide news website, one that would bring Illinoisans together by showing what we share rather than emphasizing what divides us.

By March, we were compiling stories, with our first trip, down the Great River Road along the Mississppi, from Galena to Cairo, where we greeted the oncoming spring by throwing a line in at the confluence with the Ohio River.

So by April 30 we were ready to launch, with stories on Savanna Mayor Chris Lain, a Chicago transplant helping to revive that river town — including a new bridge across the Mississippi and demolition of the old one — as well as Father Jean deDieu Ahorloo, a Togolese priest serving as a missionary at Christ the King Catholic Church in Moline, and Cairo Mayor Tyrone Coleman.

We saw for ourselves the amazing number of eagles now visiting the state in the winter and staying on to reside in Illinois year-round, the return of bison to Illinois at the Nachusa Grasslands, and the care for injured wild animals at the TreeHouse Wildlife Center in Dow just inland from Alton on the Mississippi.

We were just beginning to scratch the surface of what Illinois has to offer, stories often overlooked in the now 24-7 onrush of the news.

Along the way, however, we almost stumbled into news stories, such as the turmoil that led to the resignation of Southern Illinois University President Randy Dunn, and a broken water main that left southern Illinois gasping for water for days, along with the preservation of the Harley Clarke Mansion in Evanston. We were shocked, along with residents in southwest Chicago suburbs surrounding Willowbrook, at news of a cancer cluster resulting from the release of ethylene oxide at the Sterigenics facilities there, and at the apparent cover-up by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Illinois EPA, which at least at first attempted to protect the firm Gov. Rauner has invested in.

We studied issues, such as the way the state’s public universities — left largely unfunded during the two-year budget impasse between Gov. Rauner and the General Assembly — are the real job creators in many parts of Illinois, and the seemingly inevitable move toward legalizing marijuana.

We also saw the way Rauner worked with the Illinois Policy Institute to battle unions, working families, and any and all taxes in an effort to keep segments of the state at war with each other — even after the governor and the IPI had a political falling out last year. He won an undeniable victory in the U.S. Supreme Court’s Janus decision, and then worked side by side with the IPI to use that against public union workers.

Nonetheless, teachers and other union workers persisted in seeking fair treatment.

And, of course, we won a binding opinion from the state’s Freedom of Information Act public-access counselor stating that Rauner should turn over emails on how he worked with the IPI and other political operatives to fill state councils, commissions, and boards. Rauner filed suit as a lame duck to keep those emails from the public, but we intend to pursue that suit until they’re released, even after he leaves office. After all, a separate FOIA request turned up evidence that Rauner flip-flopped relentlessly on a bill to expand abortion rights to Medicaid recipients and state workers, campaigning on his support for the bill, then threatening to veto it to galvanize Republican opposition to a budget compromise, then working to defeat it in the General Assembly before finally signing it into law.

We saw President Trumptwice — and observed the way he left communities divided and blamed all bad news on the media, while lying outright for Republican candidates. In Illinois, we got called “fake news,” but somehow avoided Trump’s harsher label of “enemy of the people” reserved for national media outlets. We also saw how his trade war with Canada, Mexico, and (ongoing) China might have put hundreds of steelworkers back on the job in Granite City, but at the cost of market turbulence for thousands of Illinois soybean, corn, and pork farmers.

We ate a horseshoe at Obed & Isaac’s in Springfield and lived to tell about it. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

We ate a horseshoe at Obed & Isaac’s in Springfield and lived to tell about it. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

We ate some great food across the state, including fish sandwiches at Marko’s in Madison, the horseshoe at Obed & Isaac’s in Springfield, and the ribs at 17th Street BBQ in Murphysboro (as well as Marion and the State Fair, we scored the 17th Street hat trick), and we stayed at some noteworthy places, including the DeSoto House in Galena, the state’s oldest operating hotel, and the Victorian Inn Bed and Breakfast in Rock Island.

And we were there when Illinois beat Iowa in the annual Port Byron Great River Tug across the Mississippi River, the sporting event of the year in Illinois, to our way of thinking.

We saw J.B. Pritzker beat Rauner in November, as U.S. voters reasserted their democracy in the midterm elections, and we saw Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announce he’d be abdicating that throne next year.

We met some engaging people, such as Owen Muelder at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center at Knox College in Galena, Rock Island Alderman Dylan Parker, environmental activist Tabitha Tripp, and Northern Illinois University shooting survivor Patrick Korellis.

But we also saw how One Illinois wasn’t immune to the trollbots and phony accounts plaguing social media.

And we saw firsthand that the state’s bicentennial celebration wasn’t a fiasco, even though it threatened to go unnoticed through a lack of promotion by the Rauner administration.

That’s the year in a nutshell, and maybe all years: it could have been better, but it sure could have been even worse. And so at One Illinois we can’t wait to see what the next year will bring. We’ll be there for you; we’ll be there with you.

Ted Cox