Now that the political commercials have thankfully stopped, our state has some serious work to do. Illinois has at least a $13 billion deficit (some recent estimates has the deficit at $15 billion) and state contractors are owed at least $4.6 billion (again, some recent estimates have this number significantly higher).
Now, we everyday citizens have to get to work.
Last week, many of our voices were heard as we elected a new United States Senator-- congratulations Mark Kirk--and made it official electing Pat Quinn as our governor. Congratulations Governor Quinn. Congratulations also go to everyone who voted. Turnout was much better than expected. The cliché that every vote counts becomes a true statement when the governor's race comes down to less than 20,000 votes out of over 3.5 million votes cast (by the way, Pat Quinn only won three counties, out of 102 counties in the state).
Now, there is work to be done.
After the "shellacking" national Democrats took, we heard from a humble president and confident Republican party. Nationally, we have heard much positioning for upcoming fights on taxes, health care, and the economy. We have heard little, if any, talk of compromise; no talk of the necessity of working together, Republicans and Democrats alike, to get things done.
There was a ray of hope last week. After a bitter election for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama, the combatants sat down, had a beer and split some food over some conversation at the Billy Goat Tavern on Lower Michigan Avenue. The defeated Alexi Giannoulias graciously told everyone of his support for the Illinois senator-elect. Hopefully, his words and this gesture by these candidates can provide us some context moving forward, if not nationally, at least here in Illinois. The problems in Springfield are as bad, if not worse, than the problems of any other state capital. If we are going to fix the problems in Springfield, the parties are going to have to work together. And the parties will work together, as long as the citizen stays involved and forces the issue.
We have seen citizen involvement in action. It started in 2008, with the grassroots movement to elect Barack Obama to the presidency of the United States. It continued in 2010. No matter what you think of the Tea-Party--it certainly was a force in November 2010. No, not all of the movement's candidates were elected, but it certainly was successful in making candidates--Republicans especially, but also Democrats-- respond to its demands of lower taxes and smaller government.
Now, we have to remain involved in the state of Illinois. Now that we have elected our representatives, make certain they continue hearing your voice. Continue to be involved. Get involved locally; know your state representative and state senator, go to their websites and seek them out at events they hold. Do this so they can hear your voice, but also, so you can hear theirs. Listen to them when they are not running for office and make sure that they keep the promises made during the campaign. Call, email or write a letter to your representative when she doesn't keep campaign promises; remember our representatives work for us. In my experience, when you ask a question, they will respond. You may not like the answer, but they will respond.
Make certain our elected officials in Springfield get the budget right and start working on it now, rather than kicking the can down the road farther into the future. The state will most likely need an income tax increase, but that does not mean the state should not attempt to make cuts where cuts can and perhaps should be made. That will be the debate going forward: where should budget cuts be made? Can the state still afford to pay out pensions without going broke? Read up on the issue and make certain your representative and Governor know your opinion.
Here are two excellent websites to reach the governor and locate your elected officials in the General Assembly. To find and contact your state representative or state senator, go to: http://www.ilga.gov/ and use the link for legislator lookup.
To contact Governor Quinn, go to: http://www2.illinois.gov/Gov/Pages/default.aspx and use the Contact Us link.
The work didn't end on November 2nd. Contact your representative and senator. Contact the Governor. Stay involved. Be vocal. I'll try to keep you apprised of the happenings in Springfield while providing interesting stories from around the country. Make sure you do your part. Our involvement will make them accountable.