ILLINOIS (WCIA) — A group of downstate Republican lawmakers are seeking to drive a larger wedge between Chicago and the rest of state, hammering away at an economic and regional divide that has existed for decades.
The House Resolution that would ask Congress for a downstate divorce, authored by Shelbyville Republican Brad Halbrook, now has five Republican co-sponsors.
On Wednesday, Halbrook stood in front of Abraham Lincoln’s statue and rallied hundreds of gun owners, saying, “Let’s build a wall around Cook County and get Chicago to pay for it. Let’s make Illinois Great Again.”
Later, Halbrook acknowledged in a Capitol Connection interview that his language “may be” divisive, but he feels the movement is warranted.
“The case for it is the continued onslaught of attacks on our traditional family values, the right to protect ourselves, the right to the way we want to educate our kids, the ability to mine coal and draw oil out of the ground,” Halbrook said. “Things that we think are very important are constantly under attack.”
Senator Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, dismissed Halbrook’s measure as “cheap Chicago bashing” during a separate interview on Capitol Connection.
“If I can take the liberty of speaking for suburban Cook County, we would like to be with Chicago,” Harmon responded. “And I bet the Collar Counties would feel the same way. So you want to divide the state that way, it’s really going to end badly for my downstate colleagues.”
While advocating for a major change to the state’s income tax structure, Harmon also highlighted the economic boost that Chicago provides to state government.
“In Chicago, there are more millionaires and half millionaires and $250,000 earners than there are in Champaign County,” Harmon said. “So the Chicago metropolitan area is certainly going to pay its fair share. That is why many of my downstate colleagues should be looking hard at supporting this [progressive tax]. Their constituents will do better than mine.”
A 2018 study from Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that, contrary to popular belief, “the 96 downstate counties, as a group receive about 50% more in state spending than they contribute in tax revenue.”
The study’s authors said its findings were “not consistent with the rural resentment…and a great deal of political rhetoric and folklore that is widely accepted and heard repeatedly in almost every political campaign in the regions. It is quite clear that Downstate taxes are not being disproportionately siphoned off and spent in the City of Chicago.“
The same study found economic prosperity was more scare in Central and Southern Illinois than it was in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
While several Republican lawmakers are attending a series of conservative “Rally for your Rights” events that continue to exploit a downstate secession, not all of them agree that breaking up with Chicago is the best way to resolve the state’s political headaches.
“I’d rather change the politics of the state before we start changing the boundaries,” House Republican Tim Butler told WCIA on Sunday.
Butler attended a rally in Decatur on Sunday where speakers repeated much of the anti-Chicago rhetoric from a similar event in Effingham last month.
“It’s just that a large majority of the legislators come from the northwest portion of the state and they have a different viewpoint about those things than we do,” Halbrook said. “So, when they are in the majority, it is very difficult to have a meaningful discussion and debate about the issues that we think are really important to us.”
Representative Chris Miller, a freshman Republican from Oakland, warned gun owners at the statehouse on Wednesday that “Illinois is under attack from the Chicago socialists who continue to work out of the playbook of [Saul] Alinsky and all those other evil dictators that the first thing they try to do is seize our guns.”
When asked how he intended to negotiate with lawmakers he described as being in league with “evil dictators,” Miller said reaching across the aisle was essentially already a lost cause because the House Democrats in the supermajority did not adopt the Republican rules to govern the legislative process. Such a concession of power would be unprecedented in Illinois.
“That’s one of the problems is that there is no negotiation,” Miller said. “I know that from November to January, every article I read in the paper was about how we are going to be bipartisan and work across the aisle and everything is going to be great. I sincerely believed that. We tried to do that,” he said.
But after learning that the supermajority would not accept the Republican rules suggestions, Miller says he concluded, “Well, there goes bipartisanship.”
If Halbrook’s resolution passed — and there is no indication that it would attract any more than a handful of votes — it would essentially amount to the Illinois House of Representatives sending a fancy letter to Congress asking them to carve up the state into two pieces. That request would almost certainly fall on deaf ears.
Although the political climate in Springfield does not favor Halbrook’s idea, he claims “it is becoming serious business.”
“I did not really know how much was out there, but there is a lot of desire to do something different,” he said. “The movement grows every day. Where it is going to go, I don’t really know.”