‘Big Jim’ Thompson has Illinois politics down pat

Some things in life defy logic. People exercise vigorously to maintain their health, then go home and drink gallons of beer. Students sign up for classes that meet at 8 a.m. even though they know they’ll rarely get there on time.

Politics in Illinois is literally filled with such inconsistency. Even without going into Chicago politics—where something new, fun and interesting happens almost every day—there are plenty of nutty things that make Illinois government unique, to say the least.

Take the governor’s office. For the past ten years it has been occupied by one James R. “Big Jim” Thompson—politician, shrimp lover and man-about-town.

Now Jim has a real interesting political philosophy—tell the people what they want to hear and they’ll vote for you. Seeing that ten years is a long time to live in a big house in Springfield, it is safe to say that Thompson has the game pretty much figured out. Sure he’s had a few lucky breaks but, let’s face it, the man gets away with murder.

Last year, Thompson was up to his old tricks. Voters were repeatedly told that Illinois was in great financial shape. A tax increase? Impossible, Thompson replied. He said such talk was unnecessary. It sure was—at the time anyway.

Adlai Stevenson, Thompson’s humble and lovable opponent, stuck his neck out last fall and his head was promptly cut off. Stevenson told voters that a tax increase was unavoidable. He even went so far as to propose a plan to raise taxes and try to soften the blow. So much for honesty.

That’s the thing about Adlai. He was too honest, too trusting that Illinois residents would think logically. Adlai didn’t realize that Big Jim was painting the same rosy picture of things he’d always gotten away with. Adlai just isn’t the crafty politician Thompson is.

Thompson was the direct beneficiary of the LaRouche catastrophy which sent Stevenson’s campaign into a tailspin. Since some of the Democratic nominees for state offices associated themselves with the right wing extremist, Stevenson was left looking as though he didn’t know what was going on in his own party. He had the “options” of running on the same ticket with those people or forming his own political party. He chose the latter.

As a result of the LaRouche fiasco, Stevenson formed a third party and devised a “complicated” scheme to allow voters to still pick their Democratic choices. But it was apparenty too much trouble for voters to read their ballots and put an “X” next to Stevenson’s name and those of the regular Democratic Party. This, combined with Stevenson’s political goof, culminated in Thompson’s easy victory over a man who almost upset him four years earlier.

Getting back to the “winner” of the gubernatorial election, what’s the first thing Big Jim says we need after the last shrimp cocktail at his inaugural dinner? You guessed it. We need a tax increase.

So Thompson let the legislators fight it out while he relished in his new term. The tax increase failed and now the entire state is crying poor. It turns out that what Stevenson said was true. He just said it at the wrong time.

Now that the state is in a financial mess where is Thompson? Is he working to ease the blow to higher education or welfare recipients? Is he investigating ways to alleviate the huge financial crisis in the Chicago public school system? Heck no. Big Jim is out globetrotting. The last I heard he was in Europe.

Funny thing, wasn’t he in Miami during the blizzard of ‘79? And the salmonella outbreak a few years back—the guy he left in charge really did a job on things didn’t he? The flooding problems two summers ago also saw a conspicuous absence. Nice thing about the governor, it’s good to know he’s around when we need him. After all, isn’t that what we keep electing him for?