From the Desk of State Senator Brian W. Stewart (Dec. 31): “Build A Better Illinois”

I’m familiar with obstacles. The military uses them to train recruits, at least I know the Army used them to train me when I was a recruit. Police Academies use them to train new officers. 

If you think about it, life can be viewed as a series of obstacles. Every day we struggle with challenges, raise our hands in victory, wait to carry on another day or move forward to the next challenge. I agree with NBA Champion and Chicago Bulls Hall of Famer Michael Jordan who said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”

One of the many obstacles we face in Illinois is reversing Illinois’ population decline. On December 19, the United States Census Bureau released data showing that our state’s population decreased by 45,116 residents from 2017 to 2018. It is almost certain that Illinois will lose a Congressional district.

This is the fifth year in a row that our state has had negative population growth. According to the Chicago Tribune, the Census Bureau estimates Illinois population has decreased by almost 130,000 residents since 2013. Over half of that population loss has been in the last two years.

Why are people leaving? The Tribune quotes a Brookings Institution demographer named William Frey who said, “I think in a way Illinois is kind of standing out in the Midwest. Illinois actually has a population loss, which means immigration and fertility isn’t enough to make up for the domestic outmigration. It says something about the relative pull of the economy of other states compared to Illinois.”

The Tribune also asks former Wauconda, Illinois resident, Mary Miller, why she chose to pack up her home of 44 years and move to Florida. Her reply was, “It’s taxes. It’s corruption. It’s politics. And I don’t mean Republicans or Democrats, it’s all of them.”

Illinois Review reported, “Taxes appear to be a particular pain point. Half of Illinoisans told pollsters they wanted to leave the state in 2018, and the No. 1 reason was high taxes.”

These comments fly in the face of the personal statement released by Speaker Madigan on November 7 of this year, the day after Election Day. It said Democrats won because Republicans made the election a referendum on his leadership, and that didn’t work because he is a “champion of smart economic and social policies,” that provide, “real, tangible economic benefits to the people and families of this state.” One has to ask, if the policies were smart, and the benefits were tangible, why have 130,000 people fled?

Many Democrat candidates campaigned on ideas that are reminiscent of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders presidential campaign platform; progressive income taxes, increased labor costs, a government run healthcare system among other things. As we know, Sanders is especially famous for citing Denmark to support his socialist policies. Eliza Gray at Time Magazine detailed some of the “benefits” of the Danish system in her 2015 article, “Why Democrats Love Denmark.” They include spending over 30 percent of Denmark’s GDP on welfare, parental leave for childbirth, “free” college, etc.

Gray also discusses the costs of these “benefits,” the greatest being taxes. She says, “Taxes on personal income make up 26.4 percent of Denmark’s GDP, compared to only 9.8 percent in the U.S.” Put plainly, middle-income Danes pay almost 35 percent in income taxes.

In “The Almost Nearly Perfect People,” author Michael Booth details the successes of the Scandinavian countries while also exploring their challenges. In his chapter on Denmark he quotes newspaper columnist Anne Sophia Hermansen who said, “It is so boring in Denmark. We wear the same clothes, shop in the same places, see the same TV and struggle to know who to vote for because the parties are so alike. We are so alike it makes me weep… Here Invasion of the Body Snatchers is not just a 1970s horror film, but a reality.”

He also quotes another newspaper columnist, Niels Lillelund, who said, “In Denmark we do not raise the inventive, the hardworking, the ones with initiative, the successful or the outstanding, we create hopelessness, helplessness and the sacred, ordinary mediocrity.”

Do we want Illinois to be a state driving people to be average? Do we want average students, average teachers, average children, average parents, average employees, and average businesses? Should we be a state dedicated to helping our residents become the most mediocre version of themselves? Or do we want to be a state that pursues policies that help our residents become more – the very best version of themselves that they want to be?

I’m not saying the current system is perfect. If Mary Miller’s words mean anything, they mean that we need to escape the exercise wheel of ideological blinders and the partisan blame game. It means working together to overcome the obstacles we face and achieve our common goal, building a better Illinois.

That’s my New Year’s Resolution. Happy New Year!

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can reach me or Glenda at 815-284-0045 or visit my website at and use the form to send me an e-mail.

Brian Stewart

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