Last Wednesday, April 3, over 1,500 people filled the Warren High School gymnasium, and two overflow rooms, to celebrate the life of Illinois State Trooper Brooke Jones-Story. They waited in a line extending through the school and around the building for hours to honor Trooper Jones-Story’s life and public service. They included law enforcement officers from departments throughout Illinois and from across America including Wisconsin, Maine, New Jersey, Virginia, Nebraska, Missouri, Louisiana, Arizona, Texas, Utah, New Mexico, Iowa, Indiana, Ohio, Delaware, Colorado and others.
The guest speakers, Governor Pritzker, Illinois State Police Acting Director Brendan Kelly and Sharon White delivered thoughtful and occasionally funny remarks. There were scenes of overwhelming grief, and also feelings of disbelief and even others of frustration. We have lost three Illinois State Troopers so far this year in traffic related accidents.
As a retired law enforcement officer, I take the loss of every brother or sister in blue personally. As I considered my own feelings, I was reminded of President Reagan’s speech after the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. The words he shared with NASA are the words I would share with the Illinois State Troopers and our other brothers and sisters in blue, “I wish I could talk to every man and woman who works for (law enforcement), (and) who worked with (Trooper Jones-Story) and tell them: ‘Your dedication and professionalism have moved and impressed us for decades. And we know your anguish. We share it.’”
The coordination between law enforcement and EMS agencies, the Villages of Warren and Stockton, and Jo Daviess County was impressive. They closed streets for parking, managed traffic, and helped guarantee that all due respect was paid to Trooper Jones-Story, her family, and her loved ones.
Trooper Jones-Story grew up in Warren. She graduated from Warren High School. Warren is like so many small towns across our great state, the resting place for settlers in the mid-1800s, searching for a place to build their dreams in the American Midwest. Lying less than two miles from the Wisconsin border, it’s the home of the historic Pumpkin Fest and the Jo Daviess County Fair.
Warren isn’t all that different from other towns where heroes and even presidents are born, like Tampico, Illinois; Hodgenville, Kentucky; or Hope, Arkansas – the birthplaces of Presidents Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and Bill Clinton. And like other small towns across Illinois, it has its challenges. New York Times columnist, and Professor Emeritus at Princeton University, Paul Krugman thinks it’s unlikely that rural America will overcome those challenges any time soon.
In a recent column, Krugman paints a bleak picture, saying “There are powerful forces behind the relative and in some cases absolute economic decline of rural America – and the truth is that nobody knows how to reverse those forces.” He proposes a few big government solutions, acknowledging they probably won’t work, and ends by saying, “We can’t help rural America without understanding that the role it used to play in our nation is being undermined by powerful economic forces that nobody knows how to stop.”
Now, Krugman wasn’t born in rural America. He didn’t grow up in rural America. He didn’t go to college in rural America. And he’s never worked in rural America. It’s no wonder that he doesn’t understand rural America or specifically, downstate Illinois.
MSNBC reporter Chris Matthews has a different view. In an article for Fortune, Matthews points out that countries, including Germany, have regional differences in gross domestic product. Even right here in America, Mississippi’s per capita income is only 54% of Connecticut’s, while East Germany’s per capita income is 84% of the former West Germany’s. Matthews thinks the challenge of young people moving to places where there’s more opportunity is inevitable, and not really a bad thing.
Do we have challenges? Absolutely we do! We’ve had challenges since our state became a state. We’ll have more. I don’t think our challenges are because downstate Illinois is a tugboat riding the global tsunami of “powerful economic forces.” And I don’t think decline is inevitable. We’re different. We have always been different. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
That’s what folks like Krugman and Matthews are missing. They don’t get what makes us different. Maybe our differences mean we have a different economy that requires different solutions than big cities do. Maybe that’s the reason, “one size fits all” doesn’t work for us, whether it’s a mandate or an economic development incentive.
There’s a lot we can do. We can follow Professor James Ziliak’s advice, in his chapter for the Aspen Institute titled “Restoring Economic Opportunity for ‘The People Left Behind’: Employment Strategies for Rural America,” and invest in “rural broadband infrastructure; an ongoing program of expanded access to financial capital for entrepreneurs and other small business development initiatives in rural areas; and… to rejuvenate rural infrastructure.”
We can pass the common sense solutions I filed this session, like SB1925 and SB1926 that seek to expand tax credits to downstate cities and towns, while removing dangerously restrictive language for businesses applying for the economic development incentives under the Growing Economy Tax Credit Act.
We can look to the Illinois Farm Bureau’s recommendations that include regulatory reform; a reasonable tax policy especially when it comes to capital gains taxes and “lower effective tax rates for small and family-owned farms and ranches”; and infrastructure investment, that I personally think also has to end the practice of taking tax dollars from downstate Illinois and spending it in Chicago.
Do I think we can overcome the challenges we face? The short answer is, YES. We can!
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.