Whatever you think of the concealed carry bill now before the state House of Representatives -- and since you’re reading this in Chicago, you probably don’t like it -- here’s something you should know about it. If a bill allowing handgun owners to carry concealed weapons fails to pass the General Assembly, or is vetoed by Gov. Pat Quinn, the political rift between Cook County and Downstate will become even wider.
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Brandon Phelps, a Democrat from deep Southern Illinois. Phelps’s impoverish section of the state still retains some residual loyalty to the party of Andrew Jackson and Harry Truman, but it’s getting fed up with the urban worldview of today’s Democrats. Socially conservative Downstaters seethed as the legislature banned the death penalty and allowed civil unions for gays and lesbians. Gun rights are as important to Williamson County as gay rights are to Cook County, so they want Quinn and House Speaker Michael Madigan to throw them a bone.
Quinn won only two Downstate counties -- both heavily African-American -- so he doesn’t feel he owes rural gun owners a damn thing. According to the Springfield State Journal-Register, Quinn is not only threatening to veto the concealed carry bill, he’s not even giving its sponsors the courtesy of letting them know.
Asked whether Quinn’s position would affect whether Democrats back the governor on other key issues, Rep. John Bradley, D-Marion, said, “I hear that a lot in the downstate caucus.
“I am not happy about it,” Bradley said, although he said his vote personally is based on the merits of each issue. “I think a lot of us in the downstate caucus would at least have liked to have had the courtesy to know he was going to do it.”
The House is expected to vote on concealed carry today. Its sponsor, state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, said he is nearing the required 71 votes to pass the bill.
“That didn’t help anything, but at the same time, it didn’t shock me because I know he’s catering to Cook County and the city of Chicago,” Phelps said. Cook County was one of only three counties statewide that Quinn won in the 2010 election.
Illinois Issues recently ran an article on Southern Illinois’s drift away from the Democratic Party, attributing it to “a state-level echo of the shift that the southern half of America has already undergone, as the economic appeal of Democrats’ pro-labor policies has been displaced by what the Republicans are selling: God, guns, anti-abortion activism and other cultural issues.”
But Illinois’ regional polarization also plays a role. The article quotes author Taylor Pensoneau, who covered Springfield for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the 1960s and 1970s, when Democrats still dominated in Southern Illinois.
Today, Pensoneau says, the distrust by downstate voters and lawmakers toward Chicago has a more acidic quality to it, with downstate Democrats “fairly or unfairly’’ getting blamed for their affiliation with what is considered Chicago’s Party. “I think that polarization has actually increased,’’ he said.
If Chicago’s governor keeps kicking around Southern Illinois Democrats, pretty soon, there won’t be any left to kick around.
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