Thursday, August 18, 2005

Us vs. Them vs. Us

(I have to apologize up front for the length of this one, just kind of kept going on me.)

Downstate against Chicago against Suburbs against Downstate – and on it goes. There is much discussion, often negative, between the denizens of each region regarding the lack of understanding that the inhabitants of ‘the other area’ have about the problems that affect their home turf.

Chicagoans think that downstaters are a bunch of rubes. Folks from southern Illinois have no clue about life in the big city. Suburbanites are ignorantly ensconced behind their white picket fences and don’t care about anybody else.

And while the reality is that these views are held by a lot of people, another reality is that we could all benefit by a crash course in the culture of these other areas. Because at the end of the day, we are all joined at the territorial hip, and like it or not, none of these areas could thrive in a vacuum.

We live in a marvelously diverse state. From the coal country in southern Illinois to the rich farmland that is our midsection to the economic engine that is Chicago, Illinois has it all. But by recognizing the strengths, and needs of our neighbors, we could do even more.

Just one example – I don’t think that many downstaters fully appreciated the health and crime fallout that comes from the drug trade – until crystal meth came along. All of a sudden, no law was too stiff, and no amount of money was too much to spend on prevention and treatment. To elaborate, if theoretically, Chicago legislators tried to restrict over the counter access to Sudafed because of problems with crack dealers, it would have been decried as an unnecessary crimping of personal freedoms because of an ‘urban’ problem. But now that their communities are being stricken by the plague that is meth, it is a different story.

Do NOT misunderstand me, I have fully supported my downstate colleagues efforts on this issue, and have co-sponsored a number of the initiatives. My point is that we should not be quick to judge the travails of other regions unless we have walked in their shoes.

So how do we reduce the cross-ignorance that besets many of our residents? Education and exposure are good places to start.

The Illinois Farm Bureau has a great program that has rural counties adopt urban and suburban legislators. I am the proud adoptee of the fine folks at Edgar County and have loved our relationship; I have spent time in and around Paris, Illinois meeting with farmers, visiting an FS outlet, eating lunch with a cross-section of the folks and learning about life there and the issues that affect them. In a couple weeks, some of them will be up here spending some time with me in my district.

That these experiences produce results is evident. Shortly after my last visit there, I was inspired to send a letter to all of my House colleagues urging an extension of the Agricultural Sales Tax Incentives that were reported being eyed to be eliminated to ease budget pressures. I received notes from several downstate members who sincerely appreciated a City legislator weighing in on this important issue.

I think that the reverse of this program would be great. Various urban groups could bring downstate legislators up to Chicago, not just for a baseball game and shopping, but to visit city schools, neighborhoods and talk to families and business owners about their experiences.

I also think that it would be great to have a scaled down version of the State Fair up around Chicago, if not annually, then every other year. Pigs, goats, corn dogs and all. Many Chicagoans think that the farming takes place in a land far far away, not within a short drive. They don’t realize that geographically we are so much more rural than urban, that folks in southern Illinois (understandably) have more in common with people from Kentucky than with people from Chicago. Plus, it would be great for the FFA kids to spend some time up here and realize that they’re not going to get shot once the sun goes down.

While it may be hard to enlighten twelve million people, opening the eyes of 177 is a worthwhile investment that would pay dividends for all of us.

And in the interest of spurring some of the great conversation that we’ve been having, in addition to any comments about what I’ve said, I’d be curious to hear from folks about what misconceptions they think they people from other parts of the state have about their area.


At August 19, 2005 at 12:44 AM, Blogger Judy said...

John, I have noticed that as well. We do not seem to understand eachother. Now, I talk southern and suburban as well. I grew up in the suburbs, live in the city now, and have visited southern Illinois many times. I certainly do not think that downstaters are rubes, of course I am often teased about my fondness for southerners, weather they be from down state or south of the Mason-Dixon line. I have even been called a hick so I live with the bias against me and I never lived downstate.

I tend to attempt to learn issues that effect everyone. I am currently looking at agriculture issues which started with an interest in tobacco and the federal buyout. I am hearing that our farmers downstate own land that they are not allowed to grow food on becasue I suppose they are paid not to by the government. A representative of Illinois PIRG told me this while trying to corral my support for placing windmills for wind energy on this land. I think before we do anything else the farmers need to be allowed to decide weather they want to grow more food on that land so we have a more secure and plentiful food supply.

At August 19, 2005 at 1:15 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Representative- I'm so uncomfortable outside of Cook County, but the more I visit the rest of Illinois, the more I appreciate it. You really start to realize it that we have so much more in common with each other than we do in opposition.

Working for a living is working for a living, no matter if you're in Chicago, Harvey, Bensonville, Freeport, or Quincy. Also, Effingham.

Also, at the State Fair today I found out what a "yearling" was.


At August 19, 2005 at 1:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, also in Springfield today I was at the urinal next to Joe Birkett.


At August 19, 2005 at 5:15 AM, Blogger The Houston Curmudgeon said...

I was born and raised in downstate Illinois. Since then, I've been around the world 2 1/2 times. I truly believe that my roots helped me survive the various cultures that I dealt with after I uprooted.
For beginners, I never knew what predjudice was until I enlisted in the military. It just didn't exist in our small (by Chicago standards) community.
Secondly, it should be remembered that not all downstaters are farmers, albeit farming is usually the business that drives the commerce. The coal mining communities, of necessity, also have business people or, to put it more accurately, people in business. So there is definitely some commonality. A business person in southern Illinois has many of the same problems as a business person in Chicago. Differences do exist but then differences exist between a business in Chicago and a business in Elgin or Carpentersville. I think my sons efforts to get to know what these differences are by 'intermingling' with the downstaters is a step that should be taken, not only by politicians but by the common folk as well. I just wish he had been adopted by Richland County as there is a lot of family history there and it would've kind of been like returning home.

At August 19, 2005 at 8:00 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At August 19, 2005 at 8:01 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...


I couldn't agree more. I stil think a lot about our trip to Olney for your high school reunion. It was great for a lot of reasons - spending time with you, seeing where the old house was in Claremont (I still remember playing there somehow), and what was the name of the place where we got burgers and shakes? Mike's?. I've talked with the political folks down in Richland and hope to get more involved with them.

Although I've grown up in Chicago, I think that I still have Olney in my blood. Miss you.

At August 19, 2005 at 9:05 AM, Anonymous Richland County Democrat said...

Rep. Fritchey;

We in Olney, Claremont and Richland County have followed your career from afar and think you are the best. We still claim you as one of our very own.

The Claremont School house is still there, it is a community center now. Mike's or Hoveys, same place, has new ownership and is still making hambugers and shakes.

The Richland County Dems annual hog roast that you attended briefly a few years ago is September 17, at 12 noon. We would love to see you there.

At August 19, 2005 at 9:47 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

as a lifelong resident of the City, I had an opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time downstate in 2002...there is a definite gap in understanding between Northern and Southern IL.

I do believe that gap is narrowing greatly in part to two factors; 1) The "flattening" of the world due to internet and global commerce, and 2) the more impressionable, younger generation utilizing that technology to see that there is more than either farms/coal or skyscrapers/sprawl.

The advent and emergence of the global economy should give Illinois an advantage that few states will have; we reach across all sectors in the state, creating a unique trading partner for foreign countries. it's something that all Illinoisians can be proud of and will eventually lead to a better understanding of geographic stereotypes.

Now if we can just get rid of the Sox fans. :)

At August 19, 2005 at 5:44 PM, Blogger respectful said...

I wonder if Rep. John's sincere interest in downstate presages a statewide run for office one of these years? I wouldn't be surprised. It would be a loss to the House, however.

At August 21, 2005 at 9:20 AM, Blogger Amy Allen said...

Rep. Fritchey,
I think demography is equal in import to geography. Many of the factors that are frequently cited as evidence of a suburban-downstate or a Chicago-downstate divide are, in actuality, socioeconomic, i.e. cultural and political tastes. The voters of CD-3 have much in common with the voters of CD-17, except for the distance between houses.

At August 21, 2005 at 10:31 AM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

Well put Amy,

I think that we need to look at the issues that affect all of us rather than focusing on whether we are surrounded by highrises, silos, or picket fences. By doing that, I think we would find our similarities to far outpace our differences.

At August 21, 2005 at 2:13 PM, Blogger Philosophe Forum said...

Eliminating the term "downstate" could help the relationship that Chicago has with the rest of the state. It's not a true geographic term & only serves to imply that Chicago IS the state. Not living in Chicago is not living in IL. Visit another timezone, tell people you come from IL, & the next question is "What part of Chicago are you from?" Tell them you live across the river from STL, & the confusion is unbelievable.

Central & So. IL do exist. To many still living here, the informal boundaries are part of the region's history. Don't ever tell anyone in Carbondale that So. IL begins north of I-64.

Eliminating Chicago control over politics is the 2nd suggestion. The Dem Party ignores Central & So. IL. Too many Dems vote Rep because the Party has no use for them. The 2004 Election results for the IL-108 was a travesty. Grunloh (D) lost to Reis (R) 62% to 38% in the IL-108th. IL-108th also had more counties not voting their interest than any other Rep District. More IL-108th counties in the 108th voted for Alan Keyes than any other district. Not a positive footnote.

Blue Dog Dems lose regardless of who they vote for. Allowing GOP congressmen to remain in office without "serious" challenges every 2 yrs. is disengenuous & perpetuates the divide. Without an incumbent congressman to boost support for the local challengers, the political climate never changes.

Chicago residents know that "rubes" don't populate Central & So. IL. Busloads of people traveling I-55 & I-57 pass silos, barns, farm animals, etc., & urban enclaves on their way to STL. If that's not enough, they will learn how urban the region is every time they "invade" STL & the Metro-East to watch the "Scubbies" lose to the Cardinals.

At August 21, 2005 at 3:41 PM, Blogger DownLeft said...

Chicago lives in its own bubble politically. I've found that even many knowledgable, talented political professionals and elected officials in Chicago are almost completely clueless about downstate politics. More field trips to downstate, besides driving to Springfield for the legislative session, would be a good idea.

For downstaters, field trips to help people overcome their phobia of any city neighborhood with poor black people in it, or even just a short visit to those areas, would be helpful. Although, I'd suspect that is also an issue with white people who live in affluent Chicago neighborhoods. Its a kind of prejudice held by people who like to think that they aren't prejudiced.

At August 22, 2005 at 12:57 PM, Anonymous edward bryant said...

Its nice to see everyone gushing with optimism about the potential for understanding between regions of Illinois and the commonalities we share. Maybe I am just a cynic, but I don't think the different regions of this state will ever really get along that well. My experiences have led me to the conclusion that the cultural differences are simply too deep to expect that much meaningful understanding. I have been downstate many times to places like Quincy, Olney, and Peoria. While I can appreciate that the culture is different in these places than in Chicago, I really don't see that much that I might have in common with these the people in these places. Sure, I do if you speak in general terms (finding a job, health care, etc.) but I have those things in common with all of America or the world. The things I find I have in common with other Chicagoans wouldn't matter to downstaters (not that I expect it should). We will always have different priorities and no amount of understanding is going to change that or should.

At August 22, 2005 at 1:09 PM, Anonymous edward bryant said...

Just to clarify, I was not trying to say that we should not find common ground on particular issues or support issues that are important to downstaters. I was, however, pointing out that when our priorities conflict (e.g., gun control) it is completely natural to fight for a contrary position and not back away from it, even if some people in the state completely disagree.

At August 26, 2005 at 10:58 AM, Blogger dazednamused said...

Nice post, Rep. Fritchey. The adopt a legislator is a good start. In short, Downstaters often feel like they get the short end of the stick when it comes to the budget (see, for example, the repeated bailouts of Chicago schools and the CTA).

Symbolism matters in this thing. The governor's decision not to live in the mansion was a slap in the face of not only Springfield but all of downstate. I don't know if he ever understood that. It isn't a huge deal, but it's one of those seemingly repeated slaps in the face that many Downstaters feel like they endure over and over again.

Let's face it. Chicago is the 800-pound gorilla in Illinois politics. I have been surprised that many Downstate legislators don't work more closely on issues in common. Part of that reason I imagine is the power of the leadership. It's dangerous to stray too far from the commands of the speaker, so even if Downstate legislators of both parties may want to work together, there is a built in disincentive to do so.

Another issue is that there are so many Downstate rivalries (Peoria vs. Bloomington, for example). It's tough to pull off Rodney King type politics in a state where politics ain't beanbag.


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