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Tuesday, October 22

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The Mechanics
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Elections Wed Oct 27 2010

Tennessee Tennessee, Ain't No Place I'd Rather NOT Be

Despite the title of this post, no offense is meant towards the lovely state of Tennessee. Its Smokies are indeed majestic, who could argue with a town like Memphis, Dollywood calls it home, and Nashville is home to the legendary Skull's Rainbow Room, first established by honky-tonk legend "Skull" Schulman. You won't find any qualms with the state here. But when GOP gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady exclaimed the following at a debate last week, it's cause for consternation:

"If the viewers are happy with the way Illinois is going, elect Pat Quinn. But if you want an Illinois that looks more like an Indiana or a Tennessee --- a state that can turn the page -- we need new leadership in Springfield"

The Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn immediately picked up on the quote and did some quick head-to-head statistical comparisons that highlight Brady never would have made the allusions if he had done any amount of research at all. The sentiment behind Brady's statement though is something to keep heavily in mind when heading out to the polls next Tuesday. What Brady's comment conveys is a cultural argument meant to rile up Downstaters to challenge Chicago and urban hegemony against their interests. Politically, it makes a bit of a sense. Logically, it's an absurdity.

It is a further illustration of the tension between the political unit of measurement that is the State -- that is, Illinois -- and the economic force that enables its being -- Chicago. In a recent article by Bruce Katz, the Director of the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, he notes that ""Greater Chicago contains 67 percent of the residents of Illinois and generates 78 percent of the state's economic output. But Illinois has pursued transportation and infrastructure policies that divert tax revenue from Chicago to subsidize inefficient investments in the rest of the state." Unless leadership can start being aboveboard about the realities of the economic structure of our co-dependence, Illinois will remain a mess, and Chicago will stagnate. All the while, Chicago will be forced to continue searching for private dollars for public works, as it becomes an ever-larger welfare donor to the rest of the atrophying state.

At some point, there has got to be a critical mass when the untenability of the illusion of the versus culture that pits states like Tennessee against Illinois and towns like Bloomington against Chicago becomes politically apparent. All places are equally vital and important in their own regard, but the truth dictates that some carry larger weight than others. As the process of right-fixing spaces across the nation begins, realizing that the one-size-fits-all prescriptions of growth that had been counted on for so long have become unsustainable, hopefully an embracing of the actual place one occupies will accompany this development.

Any potential candidate for statewide office is foolish not to be actively selling further investment in Chicago. Whatever faults it may carry, the reality of it is that Chicago is a top-tier alpha city in a region devoid of any others. It is an exceptionally powerful place of prestige could be utilized as a tremendous asset. Aside from the states of California and New York, no other state has a city as influential as Illinois. Not only should Tennessee be so lucky to have such a problem, but Brady's thoughtless thought process indicates Chicago is somehow apart from the rest of the state. With 78% of the economic output coming from the city, a responsible candidate would encourage more growth in the city to solidify the strength and virtues of the small, rural hometown. Poison the source of the river and soon, the banks of all of its tributaries will be bare.

There are two solutions here: honesty in management, or go it alone and have Chicago take measures to decouple itself from the state. The latter isn't a political reality, so the former better become in vogue fairly soon. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to be so happening this election season.

The Grateful Dead's "Tennessee Jed"

 
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