What’s wrong with Illinois?
Critics should just maybe look in the mirror
By Ted Cox
Those who blame Illinois’s taxes and dire fiscal straits for driving people out of the state — like our counterparts at the Illinois Policy Institute — should just maybe look in the mirror when it comes to asking why everyone is suddenly so down on the Land of Lincoln.
Former state Sen. Mike Jacobs, of East Moline, said that starts at the top with Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“I don’t lay it all in his lap, but he spent an awful lot of money telling people how terrible the state was” in political ads, Jacobs said. “When I was in office, we had the lowest unemployment. Everything was going forward. We had the new university being built,” Western Illinois’s Quad Cities Campus.
“But people had this feeling that somehow Illinois was screwing up, and I think it’s because they’ve been told that,” he added. “We need somebody to fill the state up with a little pride, even if it’s not a Democrat or Republican.”
Jacobs said he’s a small partner in a new $70 million hotel in East Moline, but that it gets no love from the state powers that be.
“Rauner’s been here several times and never says a nice thing about a new hotel putting a lot of people to work,” he added. “It just seems to me instead of bashing down everything we need to start celebrating this in Illinois and realize we’re all in this together.”
“I think you’ll find the naysayers, they just don’t know,” added Jacobs’s father, Denny, himself a former state senator. “If you get told often enough that Illinois sucks and Iowa’s great, you know after a while that Illinois sucks and Iowa’s great.”
Don’t try telling that to Rock Island Alderman Dylan Parker, however.
“I grew up in Iowa, over in Davenport, and moved over here to Rock Island probably eight years ago,” he said. “I said no, no, no, no. I don’t like living in Iowa. I like what’s going on in Illinois.
"I said no, no, no, no. I don’t like living in Iowa. I like what’s going on in Illinois."
Rock Island Alderman Dylan Parker, with his daughter Antigone (One Illinois/Zach Sigelko)
“What drew me to Rock Island was, I went to college over in Davenport. But if you wanted to talk philosophy over coffee or do anything cool, basically, you did it in downtown Rock Island. All of the neat bars and fun things and interesting conversations and intellectually engaging activities were happening in Rock Island. The culture here is what drew me.”
Parker pointed to how the city has traditionally prioritized architectural preservation and maintaining old buildings, “which adds to the character of the neighborhoods, which perpetuates neighborhood organizations,” he said. That makes Rock Island not only distinct from Iowa, but defines its own neighborhoods, such as Parker’s own home in what’s known as Broadway.
He also cited how the city invested 50 years ago in welcoming immigrants, and that prevailing attitude persists today — in spite of the xenophobic rhetoric coming from President Trump — in the city’s diverse populace, including Africans from many different countries all intermingling and adding to the Quad Cities melting pot.
“Today, my family is benefitting from that because it’s just brewed into what we expect here,” Parker added, and it’s spearheaded by non-governmental organizations like the Quad Cities Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees. “It’s not things you can pinpoint — oh, this costs that.”
He derided “the constant media assault of tearing us apart and saying Illinois is terrible,” even as he granted that it’s a specific political tactic to divide and conquer.
Parker said he hadn’t been exposed to that in his successful run for office a year ago, but his home 5th Ward “is clearly left,” and his only opponent was more of a mainstream Democrat, so there was none of the partisan rhetoric and dark-money Super Political Action Committee contributions coming in that others have had to deal with since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the Citizens United case.
Others, however, have had a different political experience, such as Mike Jacobs, who still attributes his loss four years ago to an influx of dark money.
“There’s so much money now,” Jacobs said, adding that his father never spent more than $120,000 in a state Senate campaign. “But in my last race they spent $4.1 million against me and said the worst things in the world. I think that’s what really changed is just the astronomical amounts of money.”
Jacobs granted that he’d been late in reporting a set of contributions adding up to $20,000 during the campaign, which resulted in the loss of that funding plus fines. “So I get rapped on the hand for $40,000 or so, because I reported two days late, and then the dark PACs came in here and never reported. It just seems irrational to me,” he said. “I think it’s sad for the young people of this state. If you want to get involved, it’s going to be really hard unless you’re the son of a billionaire.”
Or a billionaire yourself, of course, as Illinois’s current gubernatorial race is expected to be the most expensive in U.S. history, with the two major candidates having already put in a combined $120 million of their own money.
Jacobs said that contaminated political environment has seeped into the General Assembly and poisoned what should be a public debate devoted to the common good.
“I hope the naysayers don’t win,” he said. “My Republican friends spend so much time saying, ‘Oh, you can’t do that. That’s terrible. It’s going to cost us money. This is bad, bad bad.’
“But when you’re in leadership, sometimes you’ve got to cost people money,” Jacobs added. “Sometimes you’ve got to make tough decisions. Not everything’s wonderful. And I think that’s why Rauner’s had such difficulty in Illinois, is that he’s been unable and unwilling to lead, because they’re so used to being against everything. There’s nothing that he’s for. That’s what puts everyone in Illinois in such an awkward position. We should all be on the same team and rooting for the best. And our rich people have done very well in Illinois, and if they haven’t done very well then how come they put so many millions of dollars into campaigns?”