Inaugural Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award recognizes 11 Republicans who broke budget stalemate
Former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, announced Tuesday that the inaugural recipients of the Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award are the 11 Republican members of the Illinois General Assembly who supported a critical budget package in July 2017 in the interest of fiscal solvency for Illinois.
The Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats to override then-Governor Bruce Rauner's veto of a budget compromise. This vote ended a two-year fiscal stalemate that tarnished Illinois' reputation, damaged schools, battered the state's credit rating, and led to about $15 billion in unpaid bills.
The budget that emerged allowed Illinois to avoid further downgrading of its debt. It also ensured that Illinois state government would resume regular operations.
The 2017 budget paved the way for subsequent fiscal progress in the state as reflected in recent upgrades to Illinois' credit rating by Moody's Investor Service and S&P Global Ratings.
The decision to support this agreement was courageous, consequential, and effective. While several of the Republican lawmakers received accolades from their constituents in response to their votes, many were sharply criticized and later faced primary opposition. Several opted to retire after casting the critical budget vote in 2017.
"I have been observing Illinois state government for 50 years and this vote was one of the most consequential and courageous votes that I have ever seen," said Edgar, who served in the Illinois House and as Illinois secretary of state and governor.
"It pulled Illinois back from the brink and helped put us on a much better path. This was not an easy vote and we are very fortunate there were people in the General Assembly who were willing to risk their political careers to do the right thing. This was a very important moment in Illinois history, and we should acknowledge the courage of those who were willing to cast very difficult votes," Edgar said.
"The 2017 budget vote required vision and courage and it was effective," Shaw said. "It was important for Illinois and deserves special recognition as we launch this statesmanship award. We will need more leaders to cast courageous and consequential votes in the future if Illinois is to confront the structural imbalances in our budget. However, this vote shows us the way to a better future. Governor Edgar and I also hope it encourages the citizens of Illinois take notice of – and reward – public officials who take difficult actions in the best long-term interests of our state. We believe the 2017 budget vote represents both individual bravery and collective statesmanship."
Edgar and Shaw said they expect future Simon-Edgar Awards to go to a single person, but the 2017 budget vote was so consequential that they decided on a collective award this year.
The 11 Republican lawmakers who cast the decisive votes in 2017 were:
- Representative Steve Andersson of Geneva
- Representative Terri Bryant of Murphysboro
- Representative Mike Fortner of West Chicago
- Representative Norine Hammond of Macomb
- Representative David Harris of Arlington Heights
- Representative Chad Hays of Catlin
- Representative Sara Wojcicki Jimenez of Springfield
- Representative Bill Mitchell of Decatur
- Representative Reggie Phillips of Charleston
- Representative Mike Unes of Pekin
- Senator Dale Righter of Mattoon
Political, academic, and business leaders, along with interested Illinois citizens, submitted dozens of nominations of city and county officials and state legislators for the inaugural Simon-Edgar Award. These nominations confirm that statesmanship is alive and well in the Prairie State.
Institute Director John Shaw attended the August 2021 meeting of the Edgar Fellows Program to join former Governor Jim Edgar to announce the recipients of the inaugural Simon-Edgar Award. Pictured from left to right are Shaw, award recipients Sara Wojcicki Jimenez and Chad Hays, and Governor Edgar.