Gubernatorial candidates left, republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, and right, democratic challenger JB. Pritzker, before their televised debate at the ABC 7 studios, in Chicago, on Wednesday Oct. 3, 2018. (Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune via AP, Pool)
Most of my writing on state and local politics focuses on Missouri, given that it is my home state and the one I know best. However, Illinois sits just across the river to the east (I can see it — literally — from my office window) and not only did I live and go to school there for three years, I practice there as well.
It’s interesting, given their proximity, how different Missouri and Illinois are from one another. The Mississippi is no small thing, but far more separates the neighboring states than Ol’ Man River. In the simplest of terms, Missouri is a red state; Illinois is blue. But Illinois’ blueness derives primarily from Chicagoland and a few committed longterm occupants of the statehouse in Springfield. Much of “outstate” and “downstate” Illinois is red.
Illinois has faced some serious economic woes of late. Income tax rate hikes, oppressive property tax rates (the second highest in the country), negative population growth, and a pension crisis have hurt the Land of Lincoln. Many point to the progressive blue policies emanating out of Chicago and a Mike Madigan dominated Springfield as the driver of this. (Madigan has been in the Illinois House since 1971 and served as its Speaker since 1983, aside from two brief years of Republican control in 1995-97.)
It is against this backdrop and the looming midterms that conservative radio host Annie Frey found herself facing a repeated plea from her Illinois listeners: “What do we do?” Compelled to do SOMETHING, Annie put together a rally for her fellow —staters and the “Illinois Taxpayer Revolt” was born.
The rally was held on a late October evening at American Legion Post 365 in Collinsville, Illinois. Work obligations and traffic held me up so that I wasn’t able to get there until a few minutes after the event began. By the time I arrived, the room was packed and it was standing room only. I’m no expert at crowd size estimates but there were easily several hundred people in attendance.
And there were plenty of candidates in attendance, as well. From Congressmen Mike Bost and John Shimkus to Illinois House candidates Mike Babcock and Dwight Kay. Most all the Republican candidates from Madison and St. Clair Counties were in attendance, including several judges. (Madison County Judge David Dugan, currently running for retention, jokes that there is exactly one more Republican judge in Madison County than there is in Cook County: One.)
Perhaps the most surprising candidate in attendance was Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner. Rauner is currently fighting to hold onto his seat in what many view as an uphill battle against the extraordinarily wealthy and well-connected Democrat J.B. Pritzker. (Full disclosure: J.B. was a law school classmate of mine. I did not know him well but found him to be a fairly down-to-earth and friendly fellow at the time.)
Rauner’s attendance was a surprise because, until just a few days before the rally, Frey had expressed doubt as to whether she could support his candidacy. Having made peace with the fact that, though not ideal, he is the only viable alternative to Pritzker (whose proposed progressive policies promise to further drag Illinois’ economy down the drain), Frey announced her support of Rauner’s candidacy and he made a guest appearance on her show to make his case. At the Taxpayer Revolt, Rauner emphasized his successes and the importance of retaining him as a check on the Democrat-led legislature. He also heaped praise on Erika Harold, the Republican candidate for Illinois Attorney General. Harold, an attorney (and former Miss Illinois and Miss America) is impressive (I’ve seen her speak before) and someone to keep an eye on.
But it wasn’t any of the candidates’ speeches that evening which stuck with me. It was Annie Frey’s impassioned plea on behalf of her home state. Having been aware of Illinois’ struggles for years, I, like many people, have defaulted to the “just move” mentality. Missouri’s a nearby and economically-appealing option. So is Indiana. If living there is squeezing the average Illinoian too tightly, the obvious solution is to move.
What I hadn’t considered was a point Annie drove home that night: For her, and for many of her fellow citizens, Illinois isn’t just a place they happen to live — it’s their home. The soil on which their farms sit, the subdivisions holding their houses, their towns and communities are part of their heritage, their history. And they don’t want to abandon their home — they want to fight for it.
And so, tomorrow, they’ll be voting Republican. Hoping (against some fairly long odds) to keep Rauner in the Governor’s mansion and flip nine Illinois House seats, wresting power out of the hands of Mike Madigan. I’ll be voting on this side of the river. But I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for my friends on the other side of it.
Follow Susie on Twitter @SmoosieQ