© 2024 NPR Illinois
The Capital's Community & News Service
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
Illinois Issues
Archive2001-Present: Scroll Down or Use Search1975-2001: Click Here

Editor's Notebook: How can Illinois prepare to meet the future?

Peggy Boyer Long
WUIS/Illinois Issues

What might the future look like? And how can Illinois prepare to meet it? These are a couple of the questions our editors and writers will attempt to address over the coming year, the magazine’s 30th Anniversary.

Philosopher George Santayana famously said that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. We might say, also, that those who don’t prepare for the future are condemned to chase it.

Hindsight is always easier, of course. It’s no simple task to envision the future, let alone plan for it, especially in periods of rapid change. Who, for instance, could have guessed 30 years ago that Illinois would build trade relations with China. Who could have imagined an Internet-capable phone so small it can be carried in the hand, anywhere. Who could have foreseen the devolution of the nation’s social contract from the public sector to the private sector, from government to the individual.        

But if it’s hard to envision the future, it’s just as difficult to plan for it. Political scientist Chris Mooney cautions in this issue that state institutions aren’t really geared to plan or to be visionary and that politicians have little incentive to make major changes or take long-distance leaps.

There’s always plenty to do in the short run, anyway. And everyone has a wish list. In this issue, Charlie Wheeler shares his list, really his prescription for clearing out some nagging unfinished business to better position us for the years ahead: among them, correcting the state’s structural deficit, reforming the way we finance public schools and overhauling Illinois’ criminal code, which, as it happens, is an unwieldy brief on the hazards of incremental change and exhibit number one for the law of unintended consequences. 

A case in point: “Get tough on crime” became a political slogan in the 1970s, so officials approved longer fixed sentences for certain crimes, then spent the ’80s and ’90s trying to build their way out of the resulting prison crowding. And now? The incentive for major change could be, in part, the political cover it would provide for making more discrete, but potentially unpopular, policy adjustments.

But Illinois may be at a more critical crossroad. Our destination may not yet be visible, but it’s clear big changes are already under way. So here at the magazine we, too, offer an abbreviated list of possibilities, one that will guide our editors and writers as we enter our 30th year. 

The world is shrinking and our place within it is shifting. Illinoisans, who live in a major export state, surely will play some role in crafting a balance between our economic needs and those of our trading partners. This will challenge us to measure our sense of responsibility, including any we might have for workers who live in other countries.

The role of government is evolving. Are we up to the challenge of weighing the social costs of creating an “ownership society,” as President George W. Bush envisions it? 

Illinois Issues has assessed the devolution of federal responsibilities to the states and, in turn, preemption of the states’ powers by the feds. But now devolution appears to be proceeding once again from government to the individual. Under that scenario, what will happen to those who won’t have access to food or housing or health care? These next few years could test severely our historic commitment to a national community.          

The relationship among the nation’s governments is shifting — again. What might this mean for Illinois?  

Donald F. Kettl has outlined some probabilities in Governing magazine. “The emerging Bush domestic strategy,” he wrote in that publication’s October issue, “is the first one since the Hoover administration that does not envision a major role for state and local governments.”

This could test our understanding of federalism. As Kettl notes — and as we have detailed in past editions of Illinois Issues — Bush’s philosophy of governance “means stronger performance requirements in education, block grants for Medicaid, and more vouchers rather than categorical assistance for housing. It means pushing state and local governments to the role of junior partners in the federal relationship.”

The staff at Illinois Issues, a magazine devoted to public affairs, hopes Illinoisans will meet one other challenge, as well: the strength of our civic stewardship. In this issue, Chris Wetterich addresses the distance this state must go to train good citizens. 

Our national democratic experiment is, after all, provisional, as Joseph J. Ellis makes clear in Founding Brothers, his powerful collection of essays on the American Revolution. But in today’s overheated public arena, can politicians afford to take a long view? Will citizens have the forbearance? 

Do we have a choice? 


For the past three decades, Illinois Issues has published in-depth reporting and thoughtful analysis on state government and politics. We think this is more than a milestone; it’s an accomplishment. 

So we want to celebrate. Twice, in fact. Once in Springfield and once in Chicago.

On February 24, we’ll join WUIS public radio for “a celebration of excellence” at the Executive Mansion in Springfield.

The magazine and the radio station were each born 30 years ago out of a strong belief that the university located in the state capital should excel in public affairs reporting. Both are part of the Center for State Policy and Leadership and are located on the campus of the University of Illinois at Springfield. Both have bureaus at the state Capitol. 

Next month, we’ll reflect on this shared past and look to the future of public affairs reporting in Illinois. You’re invited. (See page 2 for details.) We’ll begin the festivities with an hors d’oeuvre reception at 6 p.m. The program will include J. Michael Lennon, who is emeritus vice president for academic affairs at Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre, Penn. During his tenure at UIS, he led and championed Illinois Issues and WUIS radio. He’ll be joined by Kevin Klose, president and chief executive officer of National Public Radio in Washington, D.C., and by Michael Lawrence, the director of the Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and a member of the magazine’s advisory board. Longtime readers will remember him as a regular writer for the magazine during his stint as a Statehouse reporter.

This spring, Illinois Issues will celebrate again with a 30th Anniversary luncheon in Chicago. Details are in the works, but we’ll keep you posted. We plan to use that opportunity to explore, from a fresh perspective, some of the policy challenges Illinois could face in the coming decades.

Much has changed since the first edition of Illinois Issuesrolled off the presses in January 1975. What our founders could not foresee was the increasing diversity of this state, the rise in the global economy and the rapid evolution of technology. What might the next 30 years bring? We hope luncheon participants will help make some assessments.

As Illinois Issues celebrates its 30th Anniversary, we plan to honor our past by considering the state’s future. Come join us in Springfield and Chicago.

Peggy Boyer Long can be reached at Peggyboy@aol.com.

Illinois Issues, January 2005

Related Stories