“Illinois Lives Matter”. That is the theme of this year’s Speak Out.
It turns out that is an aspirational statement rather than one that reflects the reality on the ground here.
While the incidence of abortion continues to decline—down another 6% last year and Thank God for that—Illinois still retains its title as the abortion dumping ground of the Midwest.
Chicago has a higher murder per capita rate than New York and Los Angeles combined.
Illinois ranks 47th in the nation in providing services for developmentally disabled persons
The divide is widening between those who believe they are their brother’s keeper and a government that acts only as the keeper of their brother’s money.
Now I am not going to overstate the case as to the State of the State of Illinois because there is no need. The problems we have here exist everywhere because man exists everywhere. There is no utopia on our mortal coil just outside Illinois’ borders.
However, the problems endemic to the human condition are particularly pronounced in Illinois. Someone always serves as the bad example and this is the role Illinois has chosen to play for the United States.
And there is a reason. It is because we have given in to unreason.
As the great Christian apologist (and convert to Catholicism…a little shout out for my faith tradition) G.K. Chesterton observed in a column in the Illustrated London News during the darkness of The Great Depression, “He who has got used to unreason is ready for unkindness.”
When we get used to injustice—particularly institutionalized injustice—we are ready to usher in unkindness, even barbarism.
Do you remember five years ago when the State of Illinois cancelled its 92-year-long adoption contract with Catholic Charities soon after the passing of civil unions? Robyn Zeigler, a spokesman for Attorney General Lisa Madigan, said at the time in explanation of the decision, “Our focus remains on doing what is best for the care and welfare of children in the foster care system in Illinois.”
For 92 years the state said it was renewing the contract because it was in the best interest of children to do so. Then, overnight, Lisa Madigan cancelled the contract because it was doing what was in the best interests of children. The only problem is, Catholic Charities’ policies didn’t change from 24 hours earlier when the state said it was operating in the best interests of children. Likewise, nothing changed about the child’s best interest.
But something changed for the thousands of children in Catholic Charities foster care and the thousands of children Catholic Charities placed in loving adoptive homes. Their interests were sacrificed on the pyre of intolerance masquerading as tolerance.
He who has got used to unreason is ready for unkindness.
Speaking of adoption, you may know because you’ve probably seen them on the roads that 29 states have the “Choose Life” license plates.
These are so-called specialty plates where residents pay a premium for their license plate and a portion of the premium is distributed to organizations consistent with the mission of the plate sponsor. With “Choose Life” plates the benefiting organizations are crisis pregnancy centers and other such adoption service providers. Tens of millions of dollars have been raised through the voluntary purchase of these plates to support CPCs and adoption services providers
Illinois has more than 100 specialty license plates. For example, there’s a plate to support youth golf—for the youth that make it to golfing age in Illinois.
There is no “Choose Life” plate but it hasn’t been for lacking of trying dating back to 2003. The effort has been led by pro-life heroes Jim Finnegan, Joe & Carol Walsh, Jill Stanek, Tom Brejcha, Peter Breen and Tom Morrison—long before they were State Reps.—and many others.
But two leaders for the cause deserve special mention in a story not enough people have heard and not enough people remember: they are Rev. Scott & Janet Willis.
After losing 6 children in a horrific car accident involving another driver who had obtained his CDL license by bribing a Sec. of State’s office employee—the most egregious consequence of the George Ryan-era corruption—Scott & Janet Willis appeared at an African-American church on the south side of Chicago (I was there as well) and said this, “Eight and one-half years ago, Janet and I lost six of our children in a terrible van accident. The tragedy, as the people of Illinois now know, was partially due to a licensing system in Illinois that had been abused for political greed and power. The system of licensing is not bad. The abuse of the system is what has been so destructive. We believe that offering this ‘Choose Life’ specialty plate is one way this system can be cleaned up from its corrupt core and be used for good.”
A State Senator running for US Senator named Barack Obama called the “Choose Life” license plates, “contentious.”
Part of that effort early on included a meeting with House Speaker Mike Madigan, he was House Speaker then just as he is now just as he was when Illinois was incorporated in 1818.
Madigan spoke of his support for adoption because, you know, he told Rev. Scott & Janet Willis (I was at that meeting too), I adopted my daughter Lisa. I suggested to Madigan, that this was great news (though I already knew it) and, despite the suggestion he made that he is but one legislator, we all know him to be a very persuasive legislator and if he wants something voted up on the House floor, then that thing will get voted up on the House floor and we’ll go ahead and hold him to that standard of excellence he has set for himself.
That was the first and last time I was included in a face-to-face meeting with Madigan. Madigan bottled up the “Choose Life” plate legislation in committee and 13 years later the effort continues.
(Remind me to tell you the Emil Jones story).
The short of this is Rev. Scott & Janet Willis brought their grace to the General Assembly in support of a positive development from the incalculable tragedy they endured and at the hands of a government they financed no less. Their views were humored but not considered because voluntary support of adoption service providers through a forum the state has made available to speech (state license plate) was too “contentious.”
You know of the good work CPCs do for children and families alike. Think how many more children and families could have been served by those who live their lives for others with the resources this license plate would’ve unleashed.
He who has got used to unreason is ready for unkindness.
In 2009, when I was running my ill-fated campaign for governor, I got an email from a friend asking if I had seen an executive order issued by ill-equipped Gov. Pat Quinn, also a Catholic (Chesterton, Pat Quinn…we’ve got a big tent…too big), that would allow the public sector unions to try and organize the state-contracted home health care workers.
I had seen something about it but I took to be another public sector union gambit and, at the time, didn’t fully appreciate the implications.
That changed after I met with a group of parents, including a woman named Pam Harris, who had children with developmental disabilities.
They explained how the state’s home health care worker program worked to me in its actual operation. The state provided a rather modest stipend to the home health care worker for a developmentally disabled child for that child’s care. The home health care worker most often turned out to be one or both of the child’s parents because, of course, who has a bigger stake in the care of a child then his parents.
This was the rare state program that was actually in alignment with the interests of Illinois families specifically and civilization generally.
Well, of course, this could not stand. What Quinn’s executive order would’ve allowed is to close the shop of home health care workers and herd parents into the Service Employees Union because SEIU is always looking for to force more dues-paying members into their ranks.
Think about this for a second, the parent would be (forcibly) represented by a union against their child. I’m sorry, Joey, you don’t get fed right now, I’m on one of my two 15-minute breaks.
The courtesy and customer service of the DMV for the developmentally disabled.
He who has gotten use to unreason is ready for unkindness.
Pam Harris and other parents were having none of it. They were not going to let a SEIU business agent come between them and their children. Pam Harris took her case all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States and five years after Quinn’s executive order, Harris was victorious.
I’ve got to give you at least one “and they lived happily ever after” ending.
Unfortunately, the news is generally not so happy as I mentioned at the outset with Illinois’ ignominious record of serving persons with developmental disabilities.
This week Lutheran Social Services announced they are laying off some 750 employees, nearly 43% of their staff, and shutting down a number of programs in the areas of senior services and addiction services because the state owes them $6 million for services already rendered and LSSI can’t afford to float the state any longer.
Catholic Charities is suggesting similar reductions because the state is in arrears to them for $16 million.
There are cries from social service providers to get a budget done, to raise taxes, to make funding social services a priority.
Let me close by informing the fact-free news reports you have likely seen recently on this matter.
$214 billion in debt. $30 billion in assets. 7:1 debt to total assets ratio.
That’s the State of Illinois.
You don’t rack up $214 billion in debt overnight. In fact, Illinois has not passed a constitutionally balanced budget in 14 years.
Illinois has the 5th highest total tax burden in the country according to the Tax Foundation and the worst credit rating in the country according to everyone.
So think through this with me and go help others to do similarly.
My legislative representatives and yours tell me they’re committed to helping the truly vulnerable, those who need temporary help and those who need long-term assistance and services through no fault of their own.
We have $214 billion in debt.
So after all of the taxing and spending and borrowing and spending, if the truly vulnerable was the priority how is it we’re 47th in providing services to the developmentally disabled and tens of millions in arrears to social services providing operating other laudatory programs?
How do you reconcile the contradiction?
They’re lying. That’s how.
Recalling the “Choose Life” license plate matter for comparison and emphasis: Illinois state government doesn’t spend the money it takes from you as they say the will while preventing you a channel to voluntarily spend your money for the benefit of others.
He who has got used to unreason is ready for unkindness.
In close, the good news is that the antidote for unreason and unkindness are the reasoned people in this room who with a servant’s heart those within your circles of influence who are similarly disposed.
I’m not the mindless happy talk guy. So I have to tell you what I think is true, that Illinois has in many ways become a barbaric place to live.
But that need not be our destiny.
What you do matters. Your civic engagement. Your charitable work matters. The opinion leadership you provide within your circles of influence matters.
We need people who know better to share their knowledge, collectively demand better and labor for better.
I find myself going back to read passages from Whitaker Chambers’ “Witness” often to remind myself that the point is to put in the fight for what you think is right even if you think you’re going to lose. You never know. You may be wrong about the outcome.