Editorial | The 51st state

Editorial | The 51st state

A small group of Illinois lawmakers hopes to split Chicago from the rest of Illinois and create a 51st state. Their rash quest has been enthusiastically embraced by some downstate citizens but fortunately not by their legislative colleagues.

Only once in the history of the United States has a portion of a state separated itself from the original state. That was West Virginia, which became a state in 1863, primarily over Virginia's decision to secede from the Union and side with the Confederacy.

In Illinois today, there is no such great philosophical divide as slavery and a civil war splitting the state's citizens, yet a small group of lawmakers, including Rep. Brad Halbrook, whose district includes a part of Champaign County, wants to separate the city of Chicago from the rest of Illinois and make it the 51st state.

Halbrook's notion, contained in House Resolution 101, rightly appears to be going nowhere. It is stuck in the House Rules Committee and has obtained only three other Republican co-sponsors (out of 44 Republicans in the House). Yet Halbrook can be seen on a video posted at the website of the Illinois Review, leading a rousing ovation earlier this month at a rally in Effingham. He suggests dividing the state would "make Illinois great again," and closes his speech with the line, "Let's build a wall around Chicago, let's get Cook County to pay for it."

His message is divisive, misleading and unfortunate. There is no chance such an initiative would get through the Legislature and Congress, as is required by the Constitution. Halbrook told the Illinois Review that "everything" his constituents "hold near and dear to their hearts — our hearts — is under attack by far left legislators from the city."

We understand the frustration that conservative voters feel about some issues before the Legislature, yet they should know that there are liberal voters just as frustrated with Illinois' representative government. Further, splitting Chicago from the rest of Illinois won't ease the grievances of Halbrook and his allies. Many of the legislators they decry represent areas outside of Chicago — in the collar counties, Rockford, Peoria and Champaign-Urbana. It's not just Chicagoans who they may perceive as far to the left.

Finally, as we pointed out last year, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that downstate counties get much more back from state government than they give, and it decried the polarization perpetuated by secessionists in Illinois.

"Rational action at both the individual voter level and the aggregate public opinion level is crucially important in a democracy," said institute authors John L. Foster and John S. Jackson. "The operation of a successful mass democracy depends in the long run on the people being well informed and acting according to reality rather than perception and myth."

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