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posted: 11/8/2012 1:42 PM

Editorial: What election does and doesn't say to Springfield

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

It is human nature to look for mandates after every election, and the surprising -- dare we say stunning? -- performance of Democrats in suburban legislative races Tuesday fairly cries out for analysis. But be careful. The message in those results may not be as clear as it appears on the surface.

Yes, despite being credited and thus roundly criticized for a stewardship of the state's finances that has led to multibillion-dollar deficits and near collapse of the public pension system, Democrats not only clung to their majorities in the House and Senate, but they actually added to them. And this with considerable help from the once-solidly red Chicago suburbs.

Their 12 total pickups included five House seats in districts in northwest Cook and Lake counties and a Senate upset in DuPage County, of all places, that saw a Republican legislator with two decades' service in Springfield unseated by a novice to state-level politics.

Cynics -- well, realists, too, in this case -- will lay much of that success at the feet of the cartographers who were given a free hand to draw legislative boundaries favoring Democrats. Apologists may read it to suggest that voters aren't as upset about the tragic state of Illinois' finances as they are made out to be and not only don't blame Democrats but consider that party best suited to solve the state's problems.

But keep in mind that the former, cynical, assessment -- aside from its value emphasizing the need for a better process of drawing legislative boundaries in Illinois -- is pointless and redolent of sour grapes, while the latter is dangerously superficial. However critical one wants to be, it simply does not make sense to give unrestricted authority over the state's budgeting to either party, much less the one that, as already mentioned, has overseen the reduction of the state to its current level of crisis.

Yet, there must be some truth in both observations. The Democratic victories had at least as much to do with geography as with ideology, and if you pore through the rhetoric of the winning candidates, you find some very encouraging words and phrases -- independence, for one, and collaboration, spending restraint, improving the business environment and even tax cuts, for others.

In short, while it is naive to doubt the strength of the Democratic Party in state politics following Tuesday's elections, it is also shortsighted to presume that the new additions to the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are mere foot soldiers for the entrenched powers in Springfield. Indeed, most of them, including some whom we endorsed ourselves, emphasized their willingness to defy those powers when necessary. Just how true to those promises they will be remains to be seen, of course, but there can be no doubt that the families, schools and businesses they represent from the suburbs have unique interests they expect their representatives to acknowledge, respect and defend.

To that end, those who see Tuesday's outcome as a mandate for continuing to address the state's dire problems through debt, taxation and delay, do so at the peril of their jobs and of grave disservice to their constituents and their state.

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