State Election Matters More Than Federal This Year

States across the country have recognized the paralysis in Washington, D.C. and decided to take action on their own. Both Democratic and Republican controlled state legislatures and chief executives are taking action on fiscal and economic matters under their control, setting off a competition among the states to create the most desirable place to live, work, start a business and raise a family. State lawmakers are also taking local and regional action on labor, health, budget, infrastructure and social issues. This renewed spirit of federalism is encouraging to those of use who recoil at consolidated power seated in just one federal capitol.

While the states surrounding Illinois have given up on waiting for Washington, D.C. to act and started to re-organize themselves and pass serious reform legislation to compete for businesses and residents, Illinois has not. Our state government waits on pins and needles for federal dollars to do anything or enact any innovative program while neglecting even the simplest of state responsibilities, paying the bills on time.

It's time for Illinois to seize it's own destiny and reorient its government to become the master of its own affairs rather than continue to be subject to the whims of D.C. power players.

This election is extremely important in Illinois because it might be the best chance in a generation to damage the ingrained layers of corruption, cronyism, clout and unethical practices that have strangled Illinois's economy. To most people, electing Bruce Rauner as our next governor may seem like merely a passing of the torch from one party to another. In reality, the election of Bruce Rauner would send an unprecedented shock wave through the Springfield political universe. For the first time in living memory, a financially independent chief executive accountable only to voters and not special interest groups would occupy the governor's mansion. Lobbyists, special interest groups, lawyers and entrenched state lawmakers who built a political system to enrich themselves at the expense of their constituents never planned on having to deal with someone who is not in on the same game, subject to the same system of personal financial rewards and risks. Sure, he will have to pull a few veteran Republican politicos out of retirement to kick start his administration, but these are not people who stand to gain much from involvement in state government any more. Rauner's very existence as governor pokes a big hole in the intermingled web of Springfield influence that corrodes public trust and fails to improve living standards.

Rauner's election would be particularly consequential in the state agencies. While Republicans are generally leery of large state bureaucracies, some agencies have critical responsibilities that impact basic public safety and well being. Getting them to function efficiently (or function at all) would be a welcome change. There are fewer ways to immediately improve the quality of Illinois government faster than by improving the leadership and accountability in the big state agencies.

In Illinois, these creaky agencies have been home to political patronage workers for decades while failing to efficiently perform their essential functions on behalf of the public. Part of what fuels the Democratic machine in Chicago is the exchanging of high paying state agency jobs to unqualified political lackeys in exchange for their time generating support for Democratic candidates. The Department of Human Services alone has more than 13,000 employees. The Department of Corrections has over 11,000 employees and  the Department of Transportation, where Quinn administration hiring practices are under investigation, has more than 5,300 employees. Those critical agencies are growing headcount all the time to make room for new political hires while failing to provide positive results for the public.

Due to existing collective bargaining rules, some patronage bloat will be hard to cut immediately and some state workers are nearly un-fireable; but, Rauner would appoint new, experienced leaders for these agencies charged with the mission of cleaning up the corruption endemic in them and creating more efficient departments capable of accomplishing their mission while being held accountable for results. The State Senate may hold up some of those nominees; but, will ultimately acquiesce to avoid the appearance of shutting down state government.

Ideally, the new administration will apply a modern human resources function to state government to determine which positions can be eliminated and which employees should be retained and rewarded. A modern, transparent recruiting/hiring system needs to be established to bring talented people into state government to replace under-performing public servants with disciplinary/productivity problems. Recruiting, retaining and motivating smart, capable employees is something the private sector does much better than the public sector and hopefully Rauner can bring this business function into state government.

Many powerful interests stand to lose a lot of influence and access if Bruce Rauner becomes governor. There is a reason Democrats are hyperventilating over the polls and throwing every negative ad they can concoct on the Chicago airwaves. They know the consequences of electing Rauner as governor are monumental and irreversible.

However, without also shaking the state legislative leaders, Rauner will be restricted in dealing with the state's biggest challenges, all of which are related to financial issues that the legislature must deal with.

This is where voters can go the extra mile in this election. While no one expects either the State House or State Senate to flip from Democratic control to Republican control, voters can send a serious message to Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan. First, voters need to send State Senate Minority leader Christine Radogno and State House Minority Leader Jim Durkin reinforcements in the form of electing new Republican State Senators and Representatives. Those who live in Sen. Cullerton's district can send him an extra shot across the bow by voting for his opponent, Stephanie Linares, a Chicago Tribune endorsed criminal defense attorney who is beyond qualified to serve Chicago's north side neighborhoods and would bring a breathe of fresh enthusiasm to Springfield. Linares represents a complete break from the past and symbolizes the new face of the state GOP and a new generation of leaders for the state legislature. She is a superstar in the making and a professional worthy of the public trust. A woman with energy, intellect, courage and integrity...basically the exact opposite of John Cullerton in every possible way.

If the election goes well for the state GOP, Republicans will hold four of the six statewide constitutional offices. However, to send a clear message to Springfield that our state is ready to seize the day and our destiny, we need to go further. Replace the tired, stale, uninspired legislative leaders with bold, fresh and innovative new ones. Elect and appoint a new generation of leaders to reform and restructure the foundation of state government to meet the challenges of our time without relying on a dysfunctional federal government.

If we get this election right, there is still time to correct past mistakes and chart a course for prosperity and success. Electing Bruce Rauner is a good start and provides the reform movement with a leader; but, he is just one person. He will need allies in the state legislature and dedicated professionals willing to lend their expertise to state agencies and contribute as public servants. Reform is never achieved through one person, it is achieved through a movement lead by ordinary citizens taking action.

For those of us who live and work in Illinois, we have a chance to proclaim that tomorrow can be better than today, that we don't have to be held hostage by a broken state government and that we are ready to do what is required to make Illinois a land of prosperity again, the envy of the nation.

Carpe diem!

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