While state lawmakers continue the 200-year-old rivalry between Chicago and the rest of Illinois, there’s a move by downstaters to make the Windy City its own state, a plan one political science professor said is outlandish yet possible.
House Resolution 1138
notes Illinois is often regarded as having two distinct regions, Chicago and downstate. It also notes state legislation frequently exempts Chicago while targeting the rest of the state, and that downstate residents often disagree with Chicago on policy issues from gun ownership, abortion, immigration and others.
“Even communities north of Chicago are considered ‘downstate’ because they have more in common with rural southern and central Illinois counties than they do with the City of Chicago,” the resolution states.
One of the co-sponsors of the measure is Shelbyville Republican state Rep. Brad Halbrook.
“I think people downstate don’t like all the corruption in the city, the crime ... they’re just kind of tired of all that stuff,” Halbrook said.
Chicago state Rep. Robert Martwick said such a measure won't help Illinois.
“This is just a distraction,” Martwick, a Democrat, said. “We have a lot of problems in Illinois, the last thing we need is a movement to split us up. That won’t help anybody on either side of this issue.”
Northern Illinois University Political Science Chair Scot Schraufnagel said it’s entirely possible and constitutional for an area within a state to break away and become its own state. He cited several examples like Maine being created out of land from New York. Kentucky and Tennessee were both created out of other states. The most recent example, Schraufnagel said, was the creation of West Virginia in 1863.
“It’s Article IV
of the Constitution, Section 3,” Schraufnagel said, “and it states that the process for becoming a state says specifically that you can’t create a state out of another state without the approval of both of those entities and the U.S. Congress.”
Schraufnagel said that means entities like Cook County would have to approve such a plan, in addition to the state legislature and the U.S. Congress.
“But in so much as the [current] initiative being put forward by downstate legislators, that just doesn’t seem very viable or realistic,” Schraufnagel said.
He called it "outlandish."
Halbrook said Chicago-area lawmakers often say the city, with it’s 2.7 million people, drives the state’s economy. The state, Chicago included, has a total population of 12.8 million.
“The opponents will say that, ‘well Chicago subsidizes downstate so downstate should just be happy,' ” Halbrook said. “Well, if that’s the case then the Chicagoland folks all ought to be first in line to secede so that they quit sending their money downstate.”
Martwick said Chicago's importance can no more be overlooked than the importance of the rest of the state.
“If I was trying to feed into the selfish needs of the people of the city of Chicago from a financial perspective, I would say, ‘sure, that makes perfect sense,’ but that’s ridiculous,” Martwick said. “We have a state that is tied together by so many different things,” noting the state’s universities, energy and agricultural systems as examples.
“Chicago is the economic generator,” Martwick said. “That’s not a matter of interpretation, that’s a fact. We provide money.”
The resolution notes that “Chicago is often bailed out by taxpayers in the rest of the State, such as the $221 million bailout for the [Chicago Public Schools] pension system that was signed into law last year.”
The resolution also highlights the city of Chicago passed a resolution in 1925 to form the state of Chicago, western Illinoisans declared their region the “Republic of Forgottania,” and in 1981 state Sen. Howard Carroll passed a Cook County secession bill through both chambers of the legislature. It also notes an organization called Southern Illinois Secession Movement.
A Facebook page called “The Illinois Separation” has a poll
with 92 percent of 21,400 votes in favor of removing the Chicago area from the rest of the state.
“I guess the motivation was just to start the discussion about how such a small geographical region with a lot of population is controlling the rest of the state,” Halbrook said.
The chief sponsor of HR1138 is state Rep. Reginald Phillips, R-Charleston. State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, is another co-sponsor.