Column: Rural voters shouldn’t push to break from Illinois – Chicago Tribune

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The growing movement by dozens of Downstate counties to break away from the rest of Illinois to form a new state shows how toxic politics has distorted our reality.

I wish politicians who represent red parts of the state would offer their constituents more realistic solutions to address concerns. I have visited Cairo and other small towns ravaged by blight. I have seen similar conditions in south suburban Harvey, Dixmoor and Robbins.

Opportunistic politicians, their donors and conservative media have convinced huge swathes of rural America that Democrats are the enemy. In Illinois, they’ve made scapegoats of Chicago and Cook County.

The goal of the separatist movement is to break free from Democratic politics and influence. That’s because people in urban and suburban areas will always outnumber people in rural areas in statewide elections.

The movement gained momentum last week when voters in three more counties approved nonbinding referendums calling for their elected officials to explore severing ties with state government. Voters in 27 of the state’s 102 counties have now approved measures supporting the separatist movement.

I call malarkey. I believe people in Metropolis, Savanna and Mattoon have a lot more in common with folks in Park Forest, Dolton and Markham than they realize or are willing to admit. People are the same all over and many communities share similar economic challenges.

The separatist movement is nothing more than a political stunt. Organizers of the movement are like snake oil salespersons peddling a phony cure for what ails rural America.

Separatists are wasting their time, money and energy. Their hopes of seceding from the rest of the Land of Lincoln are sheer folly. Article IV, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution addresses the process for creating a new state.

“New States may be admitted by the Congress into this Union; but no new State shall be formed or erected within the Jurisdiction of any other State; nor any State be formed by the Junction of two or more States, or Parts of States, without the Consent of the Legislatures of the States concerned as well as of the Congress.”

A view of the Illinois River Sunday from Allen Park in Ottawa.

A view of the Illinois River Sunday from Allen Park in Ottawa. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

Voters in last week’s midterms cemented Democratic supermajorities in both chambers of the Illinois General Assembly. For the separatist pipe dream to advance, a majority of lawmakers would have to approve it, and that seems impossible.

Similarly, Congress appears unlikely to ever carve a new state out of the existing 50 when it has been too reluctant to even consider statehood for Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the separatist movement is how it distracts people from asking their local elected officials and state lawmakers tough questions about actual plans to address serious economic concerns.

The struggles are real. The loss of manufacturing jobs, population declines, decaying infrastructure and an overall lack of investment create hardships for rural residents.

Guess what? South suburban residents face identical challenges.

The reason people think secession is a viable solution is because political opportunities have told them so. In reality, it’s never going to happen. Instead of selling snake oil, why don’t elected officials in rural areas get serious about addressing the underlying problems?

On Sunday, I drove to Starved Rock State Park near La Salle. I took the scenic route instead of the interstate. Roads along the Illinois River offer spectacular views that rival vistas in California, Colorado and other scenic states. Rural Illinois is beautiful.

I drove through small towns including Seneca and Marseilles. Where some might see decay, I saw opportunity. The same sense of optimism applies to the Southland.

Change is constant. At first glance, progress may seem to have left some places behind. But a closer look reveals tremendous potential. Old buildings in many small towns have architectural and historical value. Real estate is relatively affordable.

A sculpture in Allen Park in Ottawa, along the Illinois River, Sunday.

A sculpture in Allen Park in Ottawa, along the Illinois River, Sunday. (Ted Slowik / Daily Southtown)

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The $1.2 trillion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act approved by Congress and signed into law by President Joe Biden in 2021 included $65 billion for broadband. Most of the money will be funneled through states to improve internet access in underserved areas.

With so many people working remotely during the pandemic, many employers continue to offer people the option of working from home. All that’s missing is a marketing plan that encourages city dwellers to check out housing in rural areas.

Artists are great at recognizing opportunities to buy or rent space at low costs. Musicians, painters, sculptors and the like have been known to colonize former industrial and manufacturing areas.

Breweries, wineries and restaurants can draw tourists to enjoy beautiful scenery and recreational opportunities. There are endless opportunities to redevelop and revitalize neglected areas from the so-called Eastern Bloc of Downstate Illinois to the east sides of Calumet City and Chicago Heights.

Hucksters trying to sell secession as a solution are part of the problem. They fail people in overlooked parts of America by holding them back from discovering solutions that can better their situations.

Ted Slowik is a columnist for the Daily Southtown.

tslowik@tribpub.com

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via “Illinois Politics” – Google News https://ift.tt/YR8EnSN

November 16, 2022 at 07:06PM

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