Sunday, December 14, 2008

What’s the Matter With Illinois?

Since we haven’t lived in Hannibal for very long and admit to being totally ignorant about Illinois politics, we yearned to understand the politics of this state next door, particularly in light of Blagojevich’s cataclysmic exposure.

From this vintage postcard (1950's), one can see the Illinois state border
on the other side of
the Mississippi from Lover's Leap,
a familiar Hannibal landmark.

So we had a former classmate who now lives in Chicago (and has for nearly 30 years) explain it to us. Here’s his put:

“I have always thought Blago as being a slimey person. The Republicans weren't any better as we have George Ryan currently in prison. It's all about greed. Isn't it always?"

"Blago married into the political machine with his wife Patty. Her father, Richard Mell, was a influential Chicago alderman with powerful connections. It's funny that being a Democratic state Illinois has had mostly Republican governors.When the Ryan scandal came to light, it wasn't hard for a Democrat to win."

"When it comes to governors in this state, I have always voted third party. Rich Whitney who is a Green Party member and Cal Skinner who is a moderate Libertarian.We always seem to be able to vote for decent senators here but never good governors. There are always jokes floating around about the corruption that takes place in Illinois politics. I guess Blago was arrogant and stupid enough to think he could overtly flaunt his corruption without any repercussions."

"Our Lt Governor, Patrick Quinn seems like a decent person. He might be stepping in to replace Blago soon. There are all kinds of scenarios of what could happen. Balgo could be impeached, he could resign, he could be forcibally removed as being impaired to carry out his duties as governor or nothing could happen until a trial which could take some time. I personally see him out of office shortly as we have to get a new senator one way or another. If Quinn steps in he could nominate the senator or else we will have a primary election, and then a general election in the next couple of months."

"They estimate this would cost the state anywhere from 50 million to 90 million. Our state is already broke so this wouldn't help. Illinois is pathetic when it comes to spending. It is top heavy with government workers and pension plans. A lot of that has to do with being a political machine. What that means is the power people have friends or family (for whom they make up unnecessary positions) employed by either the counties or the state. Many of these people have six figure jobs with six figure pension plans. It adds up.”

This calls to mind the 2005 book by Thomas Frank, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?” Frank has become a well-known author and Wall Street Journal columnist, and is a Kansas-bred populist. In this book, Thomas examines in depth how Kansas, once home to farmers who marched against "money power," is now solidly Republican and hence have ignored their economic interests. It’s fascinating reading for those who not only care about what’s the matter with Kansas, but what’s the matter with America, too. Frank now has a new book out titled, “The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule”. In this book, Frank explores how the cult of market privatization ruined decades of government progress in this country.

All this has us wondering if politics in this country have always contained the seed of corruption, and if this seed has now come to full fruition.

What were things like in Laura’s day?

Lover's Leap in earlier days of Mark Twain's beloved Hannibal.

Photo credits, Mentor Magazine 1924

I delved into my copy of “Mirror of Hannibal” for clues on what was expected of our politicians and how they may have governed. Written by Thomas Bacon, a local Hannibal lawyer, this book was a history and review of the commercial, business and industrial activities in Hannibal around 1905.

My findings could fill several blog posts. In reading the biographical abstracts given of the town’s civic and business leaders, one theme repeated itself over and over again – that of the personal character. Each biography was filled with assessments such as:

“He is a man of integrity, faithful to the trust imposed in him…”

“His business life has been one in which honor and integrity have long been manifest…”

“He has gained the esteem, respect and implicit confidence of the entire community…”

“He… has ever been known for his uprightness and sterling principles of character.”

The eulogies go on and on.

Obviously, our ancestors placed high premium on character, making it as important (if not more) as the businesses or professions they engaged in.

With character assassinations replacing character eulogies these days, it’s very difficult to gauge anyone’s character unless one has dealt with that person personally.

Has mass media actually made this task harder? Even to the point of contorting facts? It does seem that with all of the information we have at our feet, we are in no better position to select our politicians than were our ancestors who received their information through personal contact or word of mouth.

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