U.S. President Barack Obama became the fourth U.S. President to address a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon. I served with President Obama when he was a member of the Illinois Senate, and it was a pleasure to welcome him back to Springfield.
In his speech President Obama spoke of his time in Springfield and how imperative it is for legislators of opposite parties to find common ground on issues that divide us. Illinois has been without a budget since the fiscal year began on July 1st. As a result the state has been spending nearly $500 million month more than it receives in revenue. The time has come to work together pass real reforms and reach a compromise to pass a balanced, responsible budget. The things that unite us are far greater than the things that divide us-I urge Democratic lawmakers to work with Governor Rauner and Republican legislators on how we can pass fair, significant reforms to state government.
A major component of the president’s speech was regarding his support for redistricting reform. Governor Rauner and Republican lawmakers have been advocating for reforms to the map drawing process in Illinois as well. The majority party in the General Assembly is allowed to control the entire process, which has resulted in lopsided majorities in both houses of the General Assembly. As the president said in his address, voters should be the ones who choose their representatives; it should not be the other way around. Another consequence of the current system is that many state legislators rarely have primary or general election opponents. We must be held accountable to our constituents. I am a small businessman by trade, and I consider myself a citizen legislator. Career politicians make up a significant portion of the General Assembly. Illinois needs reforms such as redistricting that will discourage and prevent career politicians from dominating the Illinois political landscape.
In light of President Obama’s speech to the General Assembly, I am renewing my call for lawmakers to set aside our differences and work together to for the betterment of our great state. We must restore the economic prosperity to Illinois that our hard-working citizens deserve.