Illinois' debt and other issues may be unfixable, retiring state senator says
Retiring Illinois State Sen. David Luechtefeld (R-Okawville) said in a recent interview that he won't miss the state budget impasses and other deep divides in Springfield.
"I certainly won't miss this conflict that we have right now," Luechtefeld said during an interview with Illinois Issues editor Jamey Dunn, which originally aired Dec. 5 on WSIU Public Broadcasting. "It really is almost criminal what we're doing here in this state. I mean an awful lot of people are suffering while leaders are trying to show who's in charge and who's the boss and we're going to do it my way or no way. That's not good."
Some of the blame for that should be shouldered by House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago), Luechtefeld said.
"Some people would blame the governor but he's only been here a year and a half or two years," he said. "And I think this debt is overwhelming. I'm not real sure people understand how serious this debt is, I mean, to the point of 'can you ever fix it?' I have some doubts that you can fix it because of political reasons, parties want to stay in power and how do we get there. It's all about power. And rather than it being about what we really need to do, it's desperate now."
The entire situation has gone too far, Luechtefeld said.
"I personally think it may be too late to fix -- and that's sad," he said.
Luechtefeld announced in June that he would not seek another term representing the 58th District, as he has since 1995, during which time he served as Deputy Minority Leader.
"I'm not a young guy anymore, it's time to do something different," the 75-year-old state Senator said. "But I think it made it a lot simpler in the fact that they drew me out of my district. The last map drew a line around my house. So I would have had to move to run again."
In the most recent general election, Waterloo Republican Paul Schimpf handily defeated Democrat challenger and former Illinois Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon for the 58th State Senate seat, taking more than 60 percent of the vote.
"We've got a person who is taking my place who is just outstanding," Luechtefeld said. "So this is a good fit."
Schimpf and other lawmakers face the difficult challenge of getting Illinois back on its feet with a General Assembly more deeply divided than he has ever seen it, according to Luechtefeld. Despite that, Luechtefeld said it's clear enough to him what needs to be done, but there is likely no political will to do it.
"You would have to do very difficult things for a long period of time, I'm saying years, where you can fix it with cutting and maybe more taxes," he said. "You'd have to change the atmosphere of this state as far as business is concerned. But you'd have to do that over a long period of time. And I guess I would ask anyone, 'When have you seen government officials do really tough things over a long period of time?' They usually like to simply, 'Let's try to fix it and then go back to doing what we did before.'"
Striking up friendships with lawmakers of the other party is the traditional way of getting legislation passed, but that is on the decline, Luechtefeld added. Meanwhile, campaigns have gotten decidedly uglier.
"When I first came here, 21 years ago, in political ads you had to have some truth," he said. "Today, it doesn't appear that you need any truth. You just put it out there and there are no repercussions, nothing happens. They are just simply out of hand. How you change that, I don't know. But it's become an ugly, ugly business."
Luechtefeld concluded by saying he would continue to watch to see what happens.
"There is no doubt that we are more divided today than in my lifetime," he said. "Now, what I will watch as far as the state is concerned is whether there is a serious attempt to get Illinois back to where it can be. But I want to reiterate, this state will never be a very successful state unless we create an atmosphere that people and businesses want to come here, rather than leave here."