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By Jim Killebrew

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[October 28, 2014]  The leadership characteristics both inherent and learned in an individual are important markers that determine the kind of leadership a person practices. It is interesting the reputation of the political structure in Illinois has been one of crime and corruption. When outsiders reminisce about Illinois the conversation inevitably hearkens back to the days of Al Capone and the mob rule he controlled in Chicago. From there it morphs into the "political machine" days of Richard J. Daley who was Mayor of Chicago for 21 years courting the politicians running for specific offices that seemingly the Chicago machine could deliver the votes. Most can remember the turbulent days of the democrat national convention in 1968 where the Mayor dealt a heavy-handed response to the demonstrators. Even now with the President claiming Chicago has his home, having been in the State General Assembly prior to his Presidency, there are jokes spouted everywhere about doing business the "Chicago way."

Of course we all know what the "Chicago way" infers when precinct chairmen ask their favorite politician, "How many votes do you need to win?" Scandal, crisis, mayhem and deceit seem to be the order of the day when it comes to "politics as usual" in Illinois. With such colorful background and the accepted reputation of Illinois politics, one would think the Illinois gubernatorial race should be about ethics reform. For years politicians in Illinois have been branded with unethical conduct; including former governors and representatives elected to do the state's business. Today's issues include the deficit, pension reform, business flight from the state, high taxes, building massive government bureaucracies, spending over the top; but still having a tinge of ethical issues.

The last time the current governor ran for office he had taken over for the governor who had been found guilty of law-breaking that landed him in prison for years. The current governor ran on the "economy" citing the state was in debt over $13 billion dollars. Today as the new cycle of gubernatorial continues to November, the debt outlined from the Comptroller, Judy Baar Topinka reported the state has a deficit at nearly $45 billion dollars. She attributed that to the increased growth liability caused by the obligations to the state pension system. Ms. Topinka reported the state has a $100 billion dollar shortfall in its five pension systems. Therefore, the accounting system used to show this amount of debt was to show what funding should have been set aside to keep pace with the obligations that included the pensions. The actual general revenue spending account showed a 19 percent reduction that yielded a $7.3 billion dollar deficit.

The total projected spending over a three year period for 2012, 2013 and 2014 was reported at $128.6 billion dollars, $131.2 billion dollars and $139.2 billion dollars represents the spending spree continues in spite of the fact the taxing structure in Illinois remains among the highest in the land. Projected for the year 2014 from the total of $131.2 is $15.4 billion for pensions; $17.2 billion for health care; $38.3 billion for education; $8.8 billion for welfare; $9.6 billion for protection and $12.3 billion for transportation.

For Illinois politics stewardship seems scarce. Stewardship is a responsibility; more than that, however, stewardship is a privilege. Stewardship is service carried out by a person who is responsible for possessions belonging to another. The steward is responsible to carry out the owner's instructions regarding that property. Elected officials become the stewards of the people's resources.

Governments may levy taxes, but everything collected is subject to appropriate use. When the framers of our form of government put quill pen to parchment and wrote those enduring words, "We the people...," the values changed from feudal lords, monarchy and privilege, to individuals with freedom.

Each individual living in a stable society must strive toward maintaining integrity, high moral values and trust. More importantly, the person who is thrust by "we the people" to be an official is even more obligated to take on a lifestyle of the highest character. To marginalize the need for ethics is to abrogate that responsibility of stewardship. It is shameful that Illinois politicians have spent to a deficit that continues to run into the billions of dollars. There is not a family in Illinois that could maintain that proportion of deficit spending and expect to prosper.

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Clearly, those responsible for this deficit have been poor stewards of the people's resources. It resulted in money being spent for "bridges to nowhere" and projects that benefit only a few. Meanwhile, communities read about local school programs being eliminated due to limited resources.

The plight of Illinois is not unlike the circumstances we are experiencing throughout the United States. We are bombarded from the policy wonks and the news reporters about our debt climbing into the trillions of dollars. “Generational debt” it is being called; borrowing from our children and grandchildren to pay off our current debt. As individual states and the federal government collectively continue to fashion our national economy upon a foundation of deceit and shadow truth, the integrity of our way of life will continue to plummet.

In the leadership role of a public office, no matter what level, the foundational strength is the individual's moral character, along with practiced ethics and values of good stewardship. The voter has a responsibility to examine the past practices of those who currently hold the public trust. Have they spent wisely? Have they examined their spending practices and ensured the funding provided to other agencies, both public and private, have been accounted for and spent wisely with minimal waste? Have they held those recipients accountable for their moral behavior regarding stewardship of the taxpayer's money? If the mantra for the current politicians continues to be increasing taxes, building government, creating more bureaucracy and spending well beyond the taxpayers' ability to pay the debt, those politicians should be relieved of their responsibility and replaced with those who are promising to be better stewards. They, in turn, should be tested for their moral behavior as well as they take on their new positions of trust. Is this not among the most important requisites for holding any public office?

I have found, however, there are many facets of truth within the political campaign model. Many of those facets are based on untruth. I look at the accomplishments of the politician while that politician held the office entrusted to him by the people to determine if I will vote for him over someone else who has not had that type of influence in their past.

It is unfortunate that politicians not only end with dirty hands, oftentimes they start with smudge marks already. Mark Twain said, "You can't walk through a coal mine in a white suit and not come out with coal dust all over you." (Mark Twain's trademark was the white suite.) Someone else has said, "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." In Illinois we are not blessed with the most desirable lineup of politicians to work with; we have seen that in the ones indicted for corruption...politicians from BOTH parties. Sometimes you just have to hold your nose and vote for the one you hope will be best. I believe it is politicians who have put we, the citizens, in that position.


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