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Keys to February primary: pay attention, vote smart
By Stephanie Penick | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 1/27/2010 12:02 AM

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As the primary campaign season goes into full press, signs of hopeful candidates top mounds of snow. And I'm studying my legal Election Notice with sample ballots, trying to find the most qualified choices.

Yikes! I'll never be ready for early voting. But I'm old-fashioned - and I don't mind it. I'll wait to vote on Primary Election Day, Feb. 2.

While listening to political commentary last weekend, I was reminded about proposed promises for growth of government programs that make me shutter, as well as the sheer number of government units - nearly 7,000! - in the state of Illinois.

Any watchdog who favors limited government must wonder how on earth this happened. So I traced back to 1818 when Illinois became the 21st state in the union.

Slightly sidetracked by Illinois' colorful history, I noted that party politics pretty much have shared the power during Illinois' 192-year history.

The layers and complexities of Illinois government began more than 160 years ago when citizens voted to adopt townships in 1849. Today, 87 of the 102 counties in the state are divided into 1,432 townships. Naperville is served by six townships: DuPage, Lisle, Milton, Naperville, Wheatland and Winfield.

Government continued to grow as 1,300 municipalities (villages and cities) ultimately were established, each recognized with a different set of services, separate budgets with benefits and pensions, individual perks and separate staffs - in addition to the townships as well as special-purpose governments such as school districts.

To size up things a little better, according to the Illinois State Controller's Web site, the Land of Lincoln claims to be No. 1 in the nation with 6,904 units of government, including state government, a distinction held since the 1962 census.

Pennsylvania is second with 5,032 units of government. Note the difference between first and second is nearly 2,000!

Illinois is the nation's fifth-most-populated state behind Florida, New York, Texas and California; yet, Illinois offers the most units of government by far.

As one of Illinois' 13 million residents - projected to be fewer after the 2010 census because many folks have left for jobs in other states - I can't grasp it all. You'd think consolidation would be more effective and efficient.

One elected official with whom I spoke, however, said many smaller units of government were more efficient. Go figure.

Pay attention

During 2009, it was easy to become distracted by some of the proposed public initiatives that I think delayed growth of private-sector jobs.

Locally, our economy is struggling with about 10 percent unemployment, maybe more. Sadly, many of our friends and neighbors in the private sector have been out of work for months, even longer. Four of my neighbors have moved or are moving out of state.

I know from personal experience that during the past two years, some businesses have cut salaries and commissions rather than employees, giving employees the option to keep their jobs. Other employers have frozen raises or are doing with less.

During the next few weeks, I'm hopeful every voter successfully identifies smart, accessible, thoughtful, fiscally responsible, solution-seeking, job-creation-friendly candidates to represent us on the ballot in November.

Considering the sorry state of the state, we've done a lousy job of voting for at least a decade. We've got to vote better.

But first we need candidates who will let government get out of the way to spur economic growth, creating jobs in the private sector for local revenues to fund public services.

We don't have much time - or money - to waste.

One more thing: Considering the discontent with state government, perhaps when the new General Assembly is seated in 2011, they'll consider calling for another Constitutional Convention.

• Stephanie Penick writes about Naperville. E-mail her at