Illinois Republicans unhappy at the influence the Democrat-controlled city of Chicago holds over the state are looking at trying to blow the Windy City out of the state altogether -- despite the long odds that such a push would face.
A new report by Pew Trusts' Stateline shines light on an effort by the state’s GOP to turn the state red by turning the blue city into its own state.
The outlet reports that a resolution calling on Congress to declare Chicago America’s 51st state now has eight Republican co-sponsors in the state’s House, as well as growing support from conservative activists.
Supporters of the move have noted that Chicago is where much of the state’s political power and money rests, and its politics are different than other more conservative parts of the state. The sponsor of the bill, state Rep. Brad Halbrook, said he supports the split due to differences on issues such as the Second Amendment and abortion.
“Our traditional family values seem to be under attack at every angle,” Halbrook said, according to The State Journal-Register. “We are trying to drive the discussion to get people at the table to say these are not our values down here.”
The bill notes a "$221 million bailout" for the city's pension system last year, and says that "the majority of residents in downstate Illinois disagree with City of Chicago residents on key issues such as gun ownership, abortion, immigration, and other policy issues."
Any such push would require significant political muscle, and the resolution itself is only a statement of support for the push, not legislation that would work to actually make a new state. It would need to pass both the state legislature, and be approved by Congress -- making it a longshot proposition.
Even some Republicans sponsoring the bill have indicated it’s more of an expression of frustration rather than a deep-rooted desire to boot the city out of the state.
“It’s more of a frustration of the policies than the true belief that Chicago and Illinois would be better off as separate states,” Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer told the Journal Register last month. ”I don’t believe that Chicago and the state of Illinois should be separated. Our relationship is mutually beneficial.”
He went on to say that the push is designed to highlight how policies from Chicago are hurting the more rural areas of the state.
“The reality is the city of Chicago is competing with New York City and L.A. and San Francisco, and (downstate is) competing against rural Indiana and rural Missouri,” he said. “The policies that come down from Chicago are actually pushing our economic opportunity away.”
But Halbrook indicated to Stateline that he, and his constituents, are dead serious.
“Everywhere I go, people say we just need to get rid of Chicago,” he told Stateline. “It gets rid of all of our problems. My constituency is serious about it. I’m trying to save the state.”
The battle over Chicago’s place in the state has been rumbling for some time. This year's resolution is the second bill in two years and in 2017 gubernatorial candidate Robert Marshall called for Illinois to be transformed into three states: Chicago, suburbs and the rest of the state.
“Each state would negotiate how they wanted and each state would start off with a new constitution,” he told Chicago Tonight. “Everything would be new. We’d start off with a better financial situation than we are in now.”
Stateline notes that there is a precedent for Chicago being split from Illinois. Maine split from Massachusetts and West Virginia split from Virginia in the 1800s, and that the divide rose to the surface during the two-years-long budget battle between Democrats and then-Gov. Bruce Rauner. The resolution notes that there was a resolution passed by the City in 1925 to form a state of Chicago.
And while efforts are still in their infancy, the outlet’s study finds some evidence that the movement is taking form. In April, the southern Effingham County voted to hold a referendum in 2020 to ask whether it should work towards forming a new state, and activists say they’ve gathered signatures enough for referenda in two other counties.
It isn't the only campaign to mix up the U.S. state count, with decades-old calls for statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico to be made states. Last year, organizers of a long-running initiative to secure California’s secession from the United States (known as Calexit) said they instead want to give away nearly half of the state, including all of its federal land, to form an “autonomous Native American nation.”