Elected officials, including two Republican lawmakers, talked with residents Saturday about two controversial efforts, one that would separate Chicago from the rest of the state and another to encourage more counties to pass resolutions declaring themselves gun sanctuary counties.
While gun sanctuary resolutions have caught on in some parts of the state, the measure to break Chicago off from the rest of Illinois is unlikely to gain traction in the General Assembly.
Residents in Sangamon County heard from two Republican state representatives, the Effingham County Board Chairman and Vice Chairman and two gun-rights activists at a town hall meeting Saturday. They discussed an effort to separate Chicago from Illinois and why county boards across the state are passing gun-owner sanctuary resolutions.
Those who want to separate Chicago from the rest of the state said it’s because the state's largest city drives legislation that negatively impacts the rest of the state, from higher taxes, more business regulations and social issues some find contrary to their beliefs.
“This is shrinking all the time, but the last I checked [Illinois] had the 18th largest economy in the world – in the world – and we have done almost everything that we can possibly do to destroy that,” said state Rep. Chris Miller, R-Oakland, referencing high taxes and regulations. “So just think about what would happen if we, instead of having the highest of everything, if we were the lowest of everything … we would be thriving.”
State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said Chicago politicians enact laws that hurt more rural areas of the state. He and others have pointed to years of bad budgeting practices, years of tax increases, higher minimum wage laws, increased abortion rights and the state’s $200 billion-plus state employee retirement debt as major concerns.
Opponents of the move to separate have said the rest of the state needs Chicago’s economic engine to pay for things downstate and that Illinois is better unified.
Halbrook, who is leading the movement to separate with House Resolution 101, told the crowd at Destiny Church that they’re still looking at the numbers.
“People in the north say ‘you can’t survive without us,’ we say ‘we can’t survive with them’,” Halbrook said. “The numbers, that’s a big complicated issue. We’ve gotta figure how to deal with the debt, the pension situation, all of that is going to have to be sorted out. So, every day we wait it’s going to make this tougher.”
Halbrook’s resolution would ask the U.S. Congress to do what it did when West Virginia separated from Virginia in the late 19th Century and split the state into two. He directs people to the website NewIllinoisState.org.
Halbrook’s measure is not expected to advance at the statehouse.
Another tack that the supporters of separating Chicago from the rest of are using to drive the issue is a ballot initiative happening in counties across the state. That’s being led by Collin Cliburn with the group Illinois Separation. He said the effort is ongoing and growing.
“It’s kind of like a thing of firecrackers,” Cliburn said. “You light one and then they just all go off and then it kind of spreads from that point.”
“We have Cumberland and Edwards County complete with signatures and all of the counties around that whole vicinity have around 70 to 80 percent of their signatures, I’m talking about ten, twelve counties,” Cliburn said. “We’re getting ready to wrap up down there. We’re starting to focus on Central Illinois at the moment now, which has fallen a little bit behind.”
He said in Sangamon County they have about 15 percent of the necessary signatures to get such a question on the ballot for voters. Cliburn said Wayne, Jasper, Crawford and Clark counties are also very active, he said. He directed people interested in the effort to TheIllinoisSeparation.com.
“We have 102 county groups for each county to organize in,” Cliburn said.
Effingham County Board Chairman James Niemann said he expected the local ballot initiative for separation to be very popular.
“We’ve put in on the ballot for the next election,” Niemann said. “We have [a] high concentration of population in a small geographic area, they’re dictating terms to the rest of the state and we don’t think that’s [fair].”
Effingham County was the first county to pass a resolution to be a sanctuary for legal gun owners from burdensome gun laws.
Effingham County Board Vice Chairman David Campbell started the gun sanctuary resolution efforts. He said it’s grown to more than half the state. He was also at the Springfield town hall event Saturday.
“We need Sangamon County [to pass a gun sanctuary resolution] so we can get the rest of the counties to jump on board,” Campbell said. “They see Sangamon do it, they’re going to jump on, a lot of the other ones.”
Kelvin Colburn, a Sangamon County resident, said he wants to block onerous gun laws from being enforced to secure the right of people to protect themselves and their communities. He’s not just looking for supporters.
“I want to talk with the people who disagree to give me some compelling evidence and some compelling facts so maybe I can research and then we can agree that may not work, but what if it does,” Colburn said. “So I haven’t heard much opposition to this point.”
Colburn said he plans to increase his efforts to get such a resolution passed.
Campbell said 65 of the state’s 102 counties have passed gun sanctuary resolutions.