Editor's Note: A Retiring Newsman Takes a Look Back

Mar 1, 2014

Dana Heupel
Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues
When I came to Springfield 22 years ago, I didn’t expect that I would still be here when I retired. I was simply looking for a place to land in the Midwest after a stereotypical midlife crisis so I could be closer to my son, who had moved from California to Indiana with my former wife.

But as a newsman who gets his jollies covering government and politics, I now believe there has been no better place in America to work for the past two decades. I got to witness firsthand the falls of Govs. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, the spectacular rise of Barack Obama and state government’s decline into its current financial depths. All that along with the antics of the usual ensemble cast of political characters from Jack Ryan to Alan Keyes to the younger Daley to Rahm to Sens. Peter Fitzgerald, Carol Moseley Braun and Springfield-resident Dick Durbin and many, many others. When I told people from elsewhere how I made my living, invariably they would respond along the lines of: “Well, there’s more than enough there to keep you busy, eh?”

(In fairness — but also to safeguard my domestic well-being in retirement [wink]— I have to mention that I met and married a wonderful Springfield native, and she certainly played a large part in my staying in the state capital, as well.)

Because state capital newspapers and state Capitol press rooms are magnets for other newshounds with my unusual proclivities, I’ve also had the great fortune to work with and compete against some of the most talented and hardest working reporters, editors and photographers you’ll find anywhere. I won’t even attempt to list them for fear that I might overlook someone, but if you are reading this publication devoted to public affairs, you probably know who they are.

As I leave Illinois Issues (my last official day was February 28) and reflect on my time working in Springfield, I have no regrets. I’m grateful — for all the reasons listed above — and I hope that over the years, I’ve continued to grow as a journalist. I’ve been fortunate to write a regular column for the past 15 years, first for Copley News Service and then for Illinois Issues, and that has given me a forum to learn about, poke fun at and vent my frustrations with Illinois government and politicians. Reactions from readers have been mostly positive and supportive, and I am immensely gratified by that. I’ve also had my share of detractors (mostly anonymous, but that’s another story) who have sometimes labeled me as naïve, ignorant or oblivious to how government really works. To them, I respond that though I’ve never claimed to be the quickest pony in the paddock, you’d think that in 30 years of covering and supervising coverage of state government in three states, I might have picked up a little knowledge, if only through osmosis.

It’s not that I don’t understand how government works; it’s more that I refuse to give up on the notion of how it should operate. We all learned that long ago. Elected officials are sent off to sit in fancy chairs under majestic domes to represent their constituents. But even if they begin with that intention, all too often they end up catering to moneyed interests that can fund their costly campaigns and keep them firmly seated in those fancy chairs for years to come. And many of those who don’t fall into that trap are dismissed by their brethren as ineffective and sneered at as “goo-goos” (i.e., “good government” types), in Springfield parlance.

Credit WUIS/Illinois Issues

  Trying to get a majority of 59 or 118 super-sized egos to agree on anything is an incredibly difficult task and often requires some arm twisting and horse trading. But I’m not willing to nonchalantly write off what many would see as dishonest conduct as simply a disdain for watching sausage being made. If that sounds pedantic or preachy, it’s only because of my lack of skill in conveying what is essentially a simple notion: Politicians are elected to represent all the people, not just those with fat wallets.

With that, I’ll happily step off my soapbox. Although my successor as executive editor of Illinois Issues hasn’t been selected as of this writing, it’s a good time for someone else to pick up the flag and for me to visit the grandkids, flail away at elusive fish, dimpled little white balls and various stringed instruments, and catch up on the home maintenance that I’ve repeatedly postponed until “when I retire.” I may even write a little, perhaps on occasion for this publication.

I leave with the belief that I spent the last years of my career doing something important. With all the noise that surrounds government and public affairs these days, Illinois Issues has been one of the few media outlets that has the ability to calmly reflect on events and provide context and background to the news coverage. I remain forever thankful for the encouragement and support of you — our readers — of the distinguished members of our advisory board and of my colleagues at the University of Illinois Springfield.

I hope that Illinois Issues has improved under my tenure, and I’m sure the next editor will continue to move it forward, as my predecessors did before me. This position is not — nor should it be — a lifetime sinecure. Every so often, we need a pair of fresh eyes to examine what we do, figure out how to do it better and, most of all, keep in mind why we do it. I’ve had my turn at the wheel, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the journey.

We’ve spent the last year developing a strategic plan to help guide the next editor. I leave him or her with a talented and dedicated staff, a little bit of money in the bank to help accomplish new goals and a mission to continue the tradition of Illinois Issues that has lasted nearly 40 years.

Illinois Issues, March 2014