Thanks to Wednesday Journal for allowing Jack (Crowe) and me to continue and conclude our exchange of ideas. Let me offer a few thoughts on Jack’s rejoinder
First, I get it. The economy is a mess and people are scared. If you have a job, you are worried about losing it. If you’ve lost your job, you don’t know when or if you’ll get another one. If you made the mortgage payment or paid the rent this month, you’re wondering about next month. It’s unnerving.
And people are frustrated. We want someone to fix this mess and fix it now. We politicians don’t help matters much when we talk about it as if anyone of us could just snap his fingers and make it better. We’ve learned that voters sometimes reward this sort of intellectual dishonesty and punish candor.
The truth is it is going to be a long, slow slog out of this mess. We politicians can put in place policies that make it quicker and less painful, but nothing is going to change overnight. Or we can put in place polices that pander to voters’ fears but actually exacerbate the pain and delay the recovery.
So people are mad. It’s understandable. If no one can fix the mess, then someone needs to be blamed for it. And the politicians currently in control are the most obvious targets, whether or not they caused the mess. We certainly are the best foil for the politicians who are not in control but desperately want to be.
This is no time for us to give into that cynicism and vote for candidates whose policies are directly counter to our self-interests, be it economic or social. Bill Brady has no interest in Oak Park or River Forest, other than to believe that residents of northeastern Illinois have received too much attention from state government in the last decade. Why would we turn the keys over to him?
While Bill Brady may not know where Oak Park and River Forest are, Pat Quinn grew up here. He and his family still live in the neighborhood. He shares our values and priorities. Why would we not send him back for another term? Because he’s too earnest to survive among “politicians”?
We politicians are elected to govern responsibly, not simply to do what is popular. Yet if we govern without respect for the will of the voters, and we are turned out of office, our important policy victories will be overturned. Still, I’ve long believed that voters will reward good governing, and that we need to spend more of our political “capital” governing than trying simply to perpetuate our majority. On that Jack and I agree. Our majority will be assured if we do the right things and explain cogently why we are doing them. I see that notion catching on in Springfield, against all odds, especially in the Senate. But to vote “irresponsibly,” as Jack is urging us to do, would be a tremendous set-back and make politicians even more timid.
Jack offered a few “nits” on my letter. Let me offer a few on his.
The state did not “borrow” $10 billion last year, nor will we “borrow” $13 billion next year, nor have we ever “borrowed” money from the state pension funds. Jack is blurring budget deficits with indebtedness, which is understandable, because they both lead to bad results. But it’s this sort of political “shorthand” that terrorizes retirees who think we are taking money out of the pension funds. Just not true.
Jack also talks about the need to reduce the number of state employees from our “super-sized bureaucracy.” We’ve already done that. In the last eight years, we’ve cut the number of state employees from about 73,000 to just under 55,000 employees today. We have the fewest state employees per capita of any state in the nation. My most regular complaint from constituents these days is that the state no longer has enough employees to respond to their requests for help. State employees are a popular scapegoat, but we’ve already cut the fat, and are cutting the muscle to the bone.
Don Harmon is an Illinois state senator from the 39th district. He is a Democrat and the assistant majority leader in the state senate.