Introducing the 'State of the State' Blog

Jan 1, 2015

Editor's note: January marks a new phase in our journalism. Following the merger of WUIS and Illinois Issues, we now have enough journalists to enable reporting on a beat model. This allows a reporter to learn events and people more thoroughly than general assignment reporting. Each reporter is focusing on key issues in the state.  We're calling it the "Illinois Issues Initiative."

Credit mattpenning.com / WUIS

STATE OF THE STATE
CAN GOOD GOVERNMENT ABIDE GOOD POLITICS?

The merger of Illinois Issues and WUIS public radio has prompted us to rethink our beats, and in my case that means narrowing slightly from the panorama that is Illinois state government.

We began with a vague notion of government accountability, but that tasted a bit too much like the self-important “watchdog” journalism or the “can you believe they’re spending your tax dollars on this?”-type stories. No, my interests lie in a Venn diagram with one circle labeled “good government” and the other called “good politics.”

Anyone who’s been targeted by a political mailer for a contentious vote can tell you that good government can be bad politics. Conversely, what’s thought of as good politics often leads to bad government. In the November 2014 issue of Illinois Issues, I wrote about how years of tough-on-crime political posturing led to policies that stuffed our prisons to 150 percent of their designed capacity. This month, I’m reporting on an alternative to incarceration that supporters hope will eventually reduce that prison population.

I think of it as an exploration into the effectiveness and culture of Illinois government and politics. Are policies based on evidence? Are laws working as the drafters intended? What’s it like working in an agency that’s been repeatedly cut under the tight state budgets?

Illinois is about to get a governor who campaigned on applying private-sector management experience to an entrenched public sector. Couple that with the data analysis that has flourished in numerous other arenas, from sports to business, and we’re poised to enter a golden age of rational governance. If — and this is a big “if” — politics don’t get in the way.

Illinois Issues, January 2015