Downstate and Chicago, brothers in arms — or not
RICH MILLER email@example.com March 8, 2012 6:22PM
Updated: April 10, 2012 11:39AM
Mayor Rahm Emanuel was in Peoria earlier this week talking about how Chicago and Downstate politicians need to stop fighting so much.
“The politics of the past where we used to play Chicago versus downstate is over. It doesn’t serve the people of Illinois,” Emanuel said, adding, “It’s not working anymore.”
I’ve lived in Chicago, but I was born Downstate. I have good friends and close family members in just about every part of Illinois. So, I’ve always been bothered by this divisive regionalism that has plagued our state since Chicago became a real city and the two regions began fighting over the spoils.
I don’t actually think that Downstaters really hate Chicago, or vice versa. It’s just an ingrained part of our state’s politics. The regions have fought each other for control for more than 150 years, and those battles have been handed down from generation to generation, always reignited by politicians hoping to win elections.
Mayor Emanuel’s call for a truce contained some nice words, and he seemed like he meant them. But he showed not long ago that he has problems understanding how to go about bringing the peace he says he wants.
One of the biggest issues in downstate politics is guns. Downstate legislators in both parties use the issue to whip up their constituents so they’ll ignore their other shortcomings. The same thing is done by Chicago politicians, only in the opposite direction.
The basic caricature is that Downstate politicians love guns and want one in every citizen’s hands, while Chicago politicians are afraid of guns and want to ban them entirely. It’s a tried-and true-issue they’ve used for years to distract voters from the many failures of this government.
Last year, Downstate legislators came closer than ever before to passing a bill allowing people to carry concealed, loaded handguns. At one point, they even thought they had enough votes to pass it. So, the pro-gun frenzy has been whipped up like crazy. The mood was elevated even further when Wisconsin legalized concealed carry, which makes Illinois the last state in the union without some sort of concealed-carry permitting.
Emanuel got along great with Downstate legislators last year. He courted them, flattered them and worked with them every chance he got, and many of them supported his legislative agenda. But then a few weeks ago the mayor announced that he wanted a new law to register all the handguns in Illinois. The mayor scored some routine political points with his gun-hating Chicago constituents, but he infuriated Downstaters, and the resulting explosion was cataclysmic.
Downstaters who had worked with Emanuel just days before began publicly ripping into him as if he were some sort of evil dictator bent on grabbing all their guns. Most are now using their opposition to Emanuel in their campaigns. Ironically enough, Emanuel helped boost Downstate legislators politically while simultaneously alienating them from his legislative agenda.
On the other side of the equation, though, is the Downstate ignorance about how deeply so many Chicagoans hate guns. Many Chicagoans are as insulted and infuriated by Downstate demands that people be able to legally carry loaded handguns on the city’s streets as downstaters are that they’ll have to pay $20 to register every handgun they own.
So, if the mayor really wants to work toward peace, he’ll first have to find a way to get past these gun issues. And if he can do that, he’s a better man than most.