Sunday, October 30, 2005

Pretty Fly(for a Downstate Guy)

Downstate legislators. The words have the power to evoke contempt, derision, or merely a sigh. They have been protrayed as mossbacked conservatives who act in idealogical unison, or as long suffering antagonists of the Chicago machine. But, exactly how different are they from their north of 80 counterparts?

Previous occupation is one variable. A considerable number of farmers(11% of House R's) populate the legislature and they are confined, with the exception of former senator Larry Walsch, to downstate. Chicago area legislators are more likely, by virtue of affluence or circumstances, to have been practicing attorneys. But, haven't we fought that battle? Or, are there still relics of anachronistic arrogance with regards to professional backgrounds?

Diversity in race and gender-or lack there of-is another factor.Of incumbent downstate legislators, only three are female and two are black, for a total of five. It seems that elected officials are only as diverse as their consitents, and there are few predominately black districts south of I-80. Gender is more inexplicable. Are barriers to the election of female candidates still that present? Or, do female candidates run in proportions that are equal throughout the state, and are more likely to be socially moderate? That seems to be in evidence in the Illinois House and Senate, and it is no secret that downstate districts are socially conservative.

Some have noted that downstate Republican legislators are more receptive to public education than their north of 80 counterparts. Winkel or Johnson(in Congress) could be case studies in that. Still, they're just hybrid versions of suburban moderates, no new political species. Idealogy isn't necessarially kaliedoscopic; changing one variable, i.e. social issues, doesn't necessarially cause a chain of reaction.

It is obvious that some legislators are simply more adept and interested in their work than others. In fact, some seem downright apathetic. But the common perception that this distinction cuts across geopgrahical lines is a mistaken one. Just look at Senator Watson. Leadership, probably by design, is geographically diverse, with downstate titan Gary Hannig(of Litchfield, in southeastern Illinois) deputy House majority leader, and Bill Black(of Danville, near Champaign) his counterpart on the minority side.

By a certain no-so-magical political entropy, elected officials-conservative or moderate-mirror their districts. Hardscrabble practicality is not unique to downstate, nor are panache and enthusiasm unique to the suburbs. Legislators continue to resist dogmatic classification by geography or idealogy. Wonder when the "tops" will figure that one out.

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