For over a decade, one-party rule has run our state into the ground and made us the brunt of late-night TV comedians’ jokes. Jobs have left, our economy is in the tank, people have moved out, and neighboring states have taken advantage. In November, the people of Illinois made it clear it was time for a new direction, and this week Bruce Rauner was sworn to take the helm.
What does that new direction look like? One that includes all of us. Republicans and Democrats. Chicago and downstate. Urban and rural. How refreshing it is to have a Governor that spent the weekend leading up to his swearing-in stopping in countless small towns and rural communities in downstate Illinois! Throughout those stops, he hit on two main messages: jobs and good schools for our kids (and, oh yes, that he will actually live in Springfield!).
Moreover, in the appointments he made to various state posts over the weekend, you can also see an end to “business as usual” cronyism. No more party hacks who have no expertise in the agencies they are being asked to lead. Case in point, former Governor Pat Quinn appointed a former utility company executive (who happened to be a legislator who lost reelection) to head the Department of Agriculture. Governor Rauner’s new choice for Ag is Phil Nelson, the past President of the Illinois Farm Bureau! What a difference a day makes. We now have a subject-matter expert running the agency that is tasked with overseeing Illinois’ number one jobs sector.
Now, I am not going to sugarcoat anything. Our state is in a crisis and anybody reading this already knows that. It will take time and a lot of sacrifice to bring Illinois back and make it great again. There will be very difficult solutions to our problems. Let me emphasize that again. Very difficult solutions. The decisions that should have been made a decade ago, will now be made. The path back will not be quick either – righting twelve years of single-party rule will not happen overnight.
But, as Governor Rauner said during his inaugural speech, we all will be asked to share in the sacrifice, but with the correct choices made and bearing the short-term pain that will come with them, Illinois will emerge stronger, ready to retake our place among the greatest states in our union.
When one considers Governor Jim Edgar’s years in office, it is easy to draw a comparison. As popular as Edgar is now, many forget that in his first few years in office, he wasn’t very popular due to the tough decisions that he made to right Illinois’ fiscal ship. But those tough decisions weathered tough economic times which, ultimately led to a billion-dollar surplus in the state budget and an unemployment rate of five percent. Governor Edgar is remembered fondly now, despite the early tough choices he made. It is a very analogous situation to today, as Governor Rauner begins his work.
Our state has so much to offer and so many talented people. The choices to be made will be difficult and the transformation back to an economically vibrant Illinois will not be quick. But working together, we can restore Illinois!