Editorial: The value of independent thinking in Springfield

Daily Herald reader Ralph G. McFadden is fed up. In fact, the Elgin man wrote in a letter to the editor we published Tuesday that he is "embarrassed and ashamed" of Illinois and its politicians.

As a member of the board of directors for a not-for-profit retirement center, McFadden sees first-hand what happens when nothing gets done. The state, he says, owes the center $625,000.

"Would it be possible," McFadden muses, "for some senators and representatives from both parties to give up their historic partisanship and form a collaboration of persons who wish to carry out, not what is politically acceptable for their party, but what is truly best for all of us?"

In the same edition, McFadden can find two suburban state representatives who are trying to do just that. State Reps. Scott Drury and David McSweeney deserve praise for bucking leaders of their parties and showing some independence and common sense. Like McFadden we are fed up with the inaction caused by the stalemate between Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat. More representatives need to let these leaders know that the status quo is unacceptable.

"My mindset down here is to build relationships," McSweeney, a Republican from Barrington Hills told the Daily Herald's Kerry Lester "This political war between the governor and Democrats, that is not what my constituents want."

McSweeney rarely attends Republican caucus meetings and instead works on securing votes for legislation he wants passed - by spending time with legislators on both sides of the aisle.

His independent streak hasn't cost him too much politically. Drury, a Democrat from Highwood, on the other hand, has been shunned by Madigan and those who support him, mainly because Drury publicly opposed Madigan seeking yet another term as speaker. Madigan has ruled with an iron fist for much of the last 30 plus years.

"My goal from the beginning has been to bring honest, credible government to Illinois," Drury said last year during his successful run for a third term. "Having an independent streak in you is a good thing and resonates with the public."

Finding the right balance between independence and conformity is not a perfect science, of course, and we won't hesitate to call out "independent" lawmakers - Drury and McSweeney, included - when their positions conflict with ours or if they slide so far from cooperation that they become obstructionist. Yet, we also have to admire lawmakers who are willing to stand up for what they see as their constituents' interests even if it means alienating them from their political leaders.

Both McSweeney and Drury can eschew party funding in order to keep their seats - a luxury not all state representatives and senators can afford. But it's clear more independent minded people - not those who blindly follow a partisan path - are who we should send to Springfield in the next election cycle.

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