Dear Illinois,

Early voting starts today. Don’t sit this election out – it’s an important one.

The stakes are high. Illinois is the 41st worst state for business friendliness, it has the 31st worst business tax climate, and 27 states offer kids a better education than Illinois does. This is no longer a party issue. Empirically, Pat Quinn is doing a bad job.

Quinn likes to show off his commitment to state education funding. What he won’t tell you is that Illinois isn’t actually paying educators very well, at least not while they’re working. Seventy cents of every new education dollar in Illinois is spent on teacher retirement. In 15 years Illinois will spend more on retirement costs than on aid to schools. Quinn pushed a state tax increase two years ago to make this pretty dire situation look less bad – 80 cents of every new tax dollar raised in 2012 went to pay for teacher pensions. Illinois Democrats’ tax increases are a bandaid (a really expensive bandaid for Illinois businesses) on a very big problem – one that won’t go away until someone brave risks his head to reform the state’s pension system.

Springfield corruption born in Cook County has poisoned the entire state. The Chicago Tribune didn’t endorse Lisa Madigan this year, calling her out for being an ineffective attorney general who went back on her promise to prosecute political corruption as soon as George Ryan left office. Her father is still the reigning king of the state, using his influence as House speaker to ensure that the Cook County property tax system remains the de facto fundraising arm of the state Democratic Party.

The same cast of characters has been in charge for a long time. Chicago’s reputation is defined now by gun violence and dilapidated schools. People who stuck it out through the winters are finally leaving Illinois because only retired state employees are reaping the benefits of one of the country’s highest state income taxes. Maybe it’s time we try something different.

There are more than two good candidates on the ballot this year, but there are two great candidates who, if elected, will be in a position to make some much-needed, long-overdue changes in Illinois.

The Chicago Sun-Times, who joined the Tribune in endorsing Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, called this election the “most important in our state’s modern history.” Rauner is an extremely capable businessman who has big plans to modernize the state pension system, reform a workers’ compensation program that costs employers too much, and revamp the state’s tax code by capping property taxes and scaling back recent tax increases on small and mid-market companies. Rauner is an Illinois native in the best way – he has a heart for the state, one that, according to a recent endorsement, is “fiercely free of political control.” The Sun-Times thinks he’s the guy to “get Illinois roaring again.” And I agree.

Tom Cross has been beating back Cook County for years as the state’s House minority leader, and his campaign for state treasurer has prompted deep support in some unexpected places. Alexi Giannoulias, friend of President Obama and former Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate, is backing Cross, someone he says is “willing to break with his party and do what’s right.” It’s a reputation that has cost Cross support among socially conservative Illinoisians, and unfairly so. Cross is a pragmatist collecting support from other pragmatists, and his ‘yes’ vote on Illinois’s gay marriage bill isn’t a good reason to let Mike Frerichs handle the state’s finances. That’s not what government is for. Instead, Cross plans to use the power Illinois gives its treasurer to reverse the state’s downhill tax-and-pension course. When the Tribune endorsed Cross, they called him “one of the more conscientious people in state government, a social moderate and fiscal conservative.” That’s where the Republican Party is moving, and Tom is ahead of the curve.

This election could be a tipping point for a state that will always have my heart. So go vote, friends. Don’t stay home because you’ve accepted the status quo. Please don’t stay home because these Republicans like the political middle. Give them a shot. Give Illinois a chance to get better. I sincerely believe you won’t regret it.


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