We’re in an era when Chicago politicians dominate state government. But it wasn't that long ago that some of the more powerful state politicians came from southern Illinois.
A book details their careers. It's called The Dealmakers of Downstate Illinois: Paul Powell, Clyde L. Choate and John Stelle.
The author is Robert Hartley, a retired journalist. It examines the ability of the politicians from small towns to work in a bipartisan manner to reach goals. Hartley also points out what he calls the “ethical flexibility” the men utilized during their tenure.
Stelle, of McLeansboro, served a brief stint as governor after having been lieutenant governor. But he remained a political insider for years. Choate, from Anna, was a high ranking Illinois House member.
But it’s Powell who might be best remembered. Not just for his power, but also the discovery after he died. From Vienna, he became the house speaker and secretary of state. He was living in a room at Springfield’s St. Nicholas Hotel. After his death, a shoebox stuffed with cash was found in a closet.
Over 40 years later, that story is among the most repeated when folks talk of state government corruption. But Hartley also shows how those in the positions of power were able to make things happen.
“Without the dealmaking, SIU would never have grown as it did in that time period,” Hartley said. He adds social programs and other projects came to fruition.
“As one person suggested about these three individuals, none of them were choir boys. I think they all pushed the envelope on ethics. They lined their pockets with money based on legislation that was passed, particularly with race track ownership,” Hartley said.
Hartley said it was a different time. Campaign finance disclosure was still decades away. Money is what made things happen.
“You can call that corruption and I suppose, to a certain extent, it was. But that’s the way votes were gathered in that time period,” he said.