Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Some in rural Ill. want to shed Chicago; won't happen, but shows rural-urban divide that helped Trump win other states

Bureau of the Census map; click on it to enlarge
Illinois has become the latest state where rural lawmakers want to break it up to eliminate urban domination, but with a different twist. Instead of a relatively small rural area breaking off from the rest of the state, rural Illinois legislators want Congress to make Chicago the 51st state.

Their resolution "has eight Republican cosponsors in the state House (there are 44 Republicans in the lower chamber) and support among many of the state’s conservative activists. It’s the second such bill in as many years," Matt Vasilogambros reports for Stateline.

The chief sponsor, Rep. Brad Halbrook, "cites the many issues tearing the state apart," Stateline reports. "He listed Democrats’ 'overreaching' stances on abortion, guns, immigration, debt, pensions, Medicaid spending, property taxes, green energy and workers’ compensation as just some of the reasons" Chicago and Illinois should separate.

Chicagoland and Downstate Illinois have long had differences. They "hit a breaking point several years ago, when Illinois was mired in the longest fiscal stalemate in the United States since the Great Depression," Vasilogambros writes. "The budget battle between Democratic lawmakers and then-Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner lasted more than two years, threatening public university accreditation, statewide road construction and 'junk' credit ratings.

Halbrook told Stateline the mess was the fault of Chicagoland Democrats: “Everywhere I go, people say we just need to get rid of Chicago. It gets rid of all of our problems. My constituency is serious about it. I’m trying to save the state.” He is from Shelbyville, pop. 4,600, in central Illinois.

Cook County, which includes Chicago, has 40% of the state's 12.7 million people. The broader Chicago metropolitan area has 9.5 million, or 75%, so "without the Chicagoland area, Illinois would have fewer people than Connecticut," Stateline notes.

John Jackson, author of a recent study about Illinois regionalism and a visiting professor at the Paul Simon Institute at Southern Illinois University, told Stateline that a breakup is unrealistic. "But, he said, that doesn’t mean he thinks the movement is just a fool’s errand," Vasilogambros writes. "It’s about broader resentment."

“This represents a long-standing rural and urban divide that is serious in this state and prevents things from getting done,” Jackson told him. “It’s the same phenomenon all over the country, and drove the Trump vote in 2016 and will again in 2020.”

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