Inaugural Simon-Edgar Award celebrates bravery, collective statesmanship
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By JIM EDGAR and JOHN SHAW
Less than five years ago, Illinois was moving aggressively in the wrong direction, careening toward the fiscal precipice, lurching toward junk bond status. A brutal and counterproductive two-year budget stalemate had tarnished Illinois’ reputation, damaged our schools, battered our credit rating, and led to about $15 billion in unpaid bills.
An important but fragile budget plan hung in the balance in the summer of 2017. Eleven Republican members of the Illinois General Assembly joined with Democrats to over-ride then-Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the budget compromise, thus ensuring its passage and protecting the fiscal solvency of Illinois.
The budget allowed Illinois to avert a further downgrading of its debt and ensured that Illinois state government would resume regular operations. The 2017 budget paved the way for subsequent fiscal progress in the state as reflected in recent upgrades to Illinois’ credit rating by Moody’s Investor Service and S&P Global Ratings.
The decision to support this agreement was courageous, consequential and effective. While several of the Republican lawmakers who voted for the package received accolades from their constituents, many were sharply criticized and later faced primary opposition. Several opted to retire after casting the critical budget vote.
It was with this history in mind and because of its clear connection to our much-improved fiscal position that we decided to award the inaugural Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award to the 11 Republican law- makers who cast those decisive votes in 2017. Their votes represented both individual bravery and collective statesmanship.The recipients are: Steve Andersson of Geneva; Terri Bryant of Murphysboro; Mike Fortner of West Chicago; David Harris of Arlington Heights; Chad Hays of Catlin; Sara Wojcicki Jimenez of Springfield; Norine Hammond of Macomb; Bill Mitchell of Decatur; Reggie Phillips of Charleston; Mike Unes of Pekin; and Dale Righter of Mattoon
We believe this was one of the most consequential votes in recent Illinois history, pulling the state back from the brink and helping put us on a far better path. Looking ahead, we will need more leaders casting more courageous and consequential votes if Illinois is to confront the structural imbalance in our budget and tackle other difficult issues. This vote showed us the way to a better Illinois.
We hope this award encourages the residents of Illinois to take notice of and reward public offi- cials who take difficult actions in the best long- term interest of our state.
We expect future Simon-Edgar awards will go to a single person, but the 2017 budget vote was so consequential that we decided on a collective award this year.
The Simon-Edgar Award shines a spotlight on exceptional leadership that is taking place in our communities and serves as a reminder that statesmanship is not only possible in Illinois but is actually happening. It is our hope that this award becomes an important part of Illinois’ political tradition.
Jim Edgar was the 38th governor of Illinois. He founded the Edgar Fellows Program at the University of Illinois’s Institute of Government and Public Affairs. John Shaw is the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.