The Courage of a Reformer
President’s Note: We received many thoughtful responses to our last article, “Congratulations, Jeanne Ives.” Thank you. We want to continue the conversation by sharing one of those responses with you. It comes from Michael J. Lotus, an attorney and coauthor of ‘America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come.’
Thank you for your continued engagement and advocacy.
Illinois Opportunity Project
Guest Commentary by Michael J. Lotus
Last week, Illinois Opportunity Project President, Matthew Besler had a very good post about State Representative Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton). Besler’s column congratulated Rep. Ives for staying “true to the principles of fiscal responsibility, transparency and accountability.” For example, she returns the unused portion of her office budget to taxpayers every year.
Besler noted that Ives is “exemplary of the ethical, independent and astute government officials who are bringing about a Policy Revolution in Illinois.”
This is an accurate pen-portrait, and Ives deserves our admiration and support.
But the column implicitly raises an even bigger point.
One person, or even a small number of like-minded reformers, cannot fight this battle without re-enforcements for long.
The goal is not to make brave gestures. The goal is to actually enact reforms. To really change Illinois government, to really bring about a “Policy Revolution,” we need an army of people like Jeanne Ives. We need an army of candidates with character and strength. We need an army of bright, bold candidates who can win elections. We need an army of candidates committed to reform once they win.
Winning elections is difficult. Resisting Springfield’s political class, however, all too often, proves to be too great a task for many who claim to be reformers after they are elected.
The Conservative writer and activist M. Stanton Evans once said, “The problem with ‘our guys’ is that once they get to Washington they stop being ‘our guys’ and become ‘their guys’.”
The same is true of Springfield. People “go native” once they get there.
Springfield is filled with people who benefit from things staying the way they are. They are powerful and connected. They know the tricks of the political trade. They will tell the newly elected reformer that there is only one way to play the game. And they really believe that. They can’t imagine anything changing. And, they have real carrots and sticks. They can make it much harder, or much easier, to get reelected
Novice politicians who want to make any real change find themselves excluded, treated as ignoramuses, told they don’t understand how things really work, chuckled at as naive, or angrily dismissed for not being team players, often by their own party.
The easy course is to give in to these pressures, and to forget why you went to Springfield in the first place.
Our state could be, and should be, an economic powerhouse. The potential in Illinois is enormous. A great future is within our reach.
The problem is that Illinois is held back by a corrupt, wasteful and inefficient government.
What will it take to clear away this self-inflicted disaster? What will it take to push through real reform?
It will take more than having sound policy ideas.
It will even take more than winning elections and sending people to Springfield who have good ideas and say they are committed to reform.
The last hurdle is the hardest one: staying committed to making real change once the candidate wins and goes to Springfield. The pressures to conform and give up on making real change can only be overcome by strong personal character. That is why Jeanne Ives is so important. It is not just what she does, but that she provides leadership by example.
She shows that it is possible.
To really matter, to really do something, to really change the direction of our state, means that there will be hardship, rejection, unpopularity, vilification, rejection of material benefits, making people mad by refusing to do what “everybody does,” attacks by the people who benefit from the status quo, not many pats on the back, and incomprehension even from good people.
The committed reformer has to be willing to go up against all that.
What is the reformer’s motivation, then?
If it is not money, prestige, popularity, an easy life, what is it?
Faith is part of it. Patriotism is part of it. Moral principles are part of it. A sense of duty is part of it. Gratitude for what we have been given is part of it. A commitment to a better future for ourselves, our families, and our children is part of it.
A hopeful vision of how things could be, should be, must be, will be better if we change course in Illinois, that is also part of it.
On one hand, asking people to sign up to be unpopular and not invited to all the parties does not sound like it will get many volunteers.
But we know that asking people to do hard and demanding things sometimes does work. It draws people with a spirit of adventure; people who want a serious challenge; and people who know that doing something great will always be hard.
Most people will hate the idea.
But a select few will want it and be drawn to it.
We need to find them, elect them and send them to Springfield, and then count on them to stay true to the cause.
Could you be one of them?
Mike Lotus is an attorney in Chicago, and the coauthor of ‘America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—Why America’s Greatest Days Are Yet to Come.’