Chase McCall

Gibson City resident Chase McCall, chairman of the Ford County Board's finance committee, speaks during a May 9 committee meeting.

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PAXTON — Members of the Ford County Board are fed up with Chicago’s overarching influence in state politics, and they hope other county boards downstate join them in making the same statement.

During a May 9 meeting of the board’s finance committee, a discussion was held about placing a nonbinding referendum on the November 2020 election ballot proposing that Ford County engage in discussions with other counties about the possibility of forming a new state that would not include Cook County.

The language for the proposed referendum was created by Effingham County, according to board member Ann Ihrke of rural Buckley, and its goal is similar to pending legislation urging the U.S. Congress to remove Chicago from Illinois and make the city of 2.7 million people its own state.

Both the referendum and the legislation, Ihrke said, are merely designed to spark a discussion about how downstate Illinoisans do not feel like they have a voice in state politics because of Chicago.

“This is all symbolic,” said finance committee Chairman Chase McCall of Gibson City. “This is all just a statement piece for a county our size and for other counties our size — for any county south of I-80, really — to say, ‘We’re sick and tired of being pushed around; we want a seat at the table.’”

There are ideological differences between downstate and Chicago on issues such as abortion and gun rights, and the divide is deepened because of the perception that Chicago is often “bailed out” by taxpayers in the rest of the state.

Like some state lawmakers from downstate, Ford County Board members are tired of Chicago politicians controlling the agenda in the Legislature.

According to the U.S. Constitution, creating a new state from a portion of an existing state requires approval from the state legislature and Congress.

Ihrke and other Ford County Board members said they are well aware that separating the rest of the state from Chicago is unlikely to happen, but Ihrke said it is still worthwhile to make a “statement to Cook County” through either the proposed nonbinding referendum or a formal resolution.

“I just think it’s worth a statement,” Ihrke said, “because how many representatives do they have in Springfield compared with the rest of us? And they are the ones who are telling us how we have to run and our taxes and everything else.”

Board member Randy Ferguson of Gibson City agreed.

“If you get it out in the news, other counties might do the same thing, and then, low and behold, you’ve got a majority,” Ferguson said.

Ford County State’s Attorney Andrew Killian said that instead of pursuing the proposed referendum — which would constitute an expense to the county, he noted — a “more practical solution” might be to “tell the General Assembly that you want at least one senator per county, instead of as it is now, by population.”

“In the U.S. Senate, you get two senators regardless of if you’re Rhode Island or California,” Killian noted. “We don’t have that in Illinois.”

Board member Chuck Aubry of Gibson City agreed with Killian, saying he feels that Killian’s solution might actually make a difference in downstate counties’ representation at the capitol. Aubry said the referendum would likely only create a “distraction.”

After a lengthy discussion, the board agreed to draft a proposed resolution — as an alternative to pursuing the referendum — that would state that the county board will discuss its concerns with other counties and come up with a plan to address those concerns, which could include such things as “fair maps” or assigning at least one senator to represent each county, for example.

“I would vote for something that said, ‘Here’s all the concerns we have for being downstate; we’d like authorization to go meet with other counties and discuss if they have similar concerns,’” Aubry said.

The finance committee made plans to continue the discussion in June.