Opinions,discussions and common ground on the Democracy of the United States and Macon County "Democracy is the cause of Humanity."--John L. O'Sullivan

Wednesday, June 15, 2005


While some likely welcome the silence into which this blog has lapsed through most of May and well into June, there may be a few folks who wonder what has happened. There has been general slowdown in "blogging" on the Decatur front, even with the emergence of "Blog Decatur." The big topic has been the Department of Justice inquiry at DMH, a subject covered by a staggering amount of posts on Matt Jackson's blog site (http://jacksonfile.blogspot.com/). Like many of you, I've been distracted by other activities. The Rock Springs Ground Squirrels Vintage Base Ball Club seems to improve its won-loss record in inverse proportion to the amount of playing time I record for it. However, I still find myself doing a lot with and for the club. Hopefully, in the near future I can finally get around to the second installment in Standing On Their Shoulders, an irregular series on Macon County Democratic leaders from the past, as well as the long-promised, yet-to-be-delivered Why We Are Democrats series. If you are interested in these topics, please check back from time to time. Don't forget, too, to check out The Decatur Democrat and the blogs of Ryan Marucco, Bryan Smith and Matt Jackson for interesting ideas and commentary.
Best Regards,

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Government That Works

Not surprisingly, the Herald & Review did not run a story in this morning's edition recounting some of the rather interesting, even startling, information that emerged at last night's meeting of the county board's Finance Committee. Consider the following:

--a resolution authorizing external borrowing was passed and forwarded to the Board but any external borrowing, if it happens, will come several months later than in past years. More importantly, it is possible that the county will not have to borrow externally to cover the annual cash flow crunch.

--it is quite likely that at the May 12 meeting, the Board will accept a new health insurance contract that calls for only a 1 percent increase. This is stunning considering that the Board annually budgets at least 15 percent or more in anticipation of an increase and is delighted if the figure comes in at 12-13 percent. Consider, too, what is happening to the insurance costs of other local government units.

--finally, there is a POSITIVE ending fund balance for the first time since 1999. The $500,000 in the black is still about $1 million short of what the county needs to avoid cash flow problems but is a remarkable achievement considering the tremendous hole in which county government began this decade.

There are plenty of reasons for this good news. First, is the hard work, concentration, cooperation, and public spiritedness of Macon County's elected officeholders of both parties, appointed officials and employees. Without them and their hard work, we wouldn't be looking at this progress. On the health insurance front, Dave Wolfe saw this problem, as did his predecessor John Snyder, and decided to appoint a special committee that would begin work well in advance of the contract's expiration. This committee did its job and is coming in with a fantastic deal. There is a similar committee addressing telecommunications and computer issues, like the insurance committee a bi-partisan effort. Throughout Macon County's struggles there has generally been bi-partisan cooperation on the tough decisions.

To be sure, Macon County is not out of the woods. There are still plenty of opportunities to run off the road and end up back in the ditch. But these developments clearly indicate that the often-denigrated county government works effectively. Amid all the newspaper headlines, quotes and editorials about fusses, feuds, fights, and mistakes, the main business of county government has gone on quietly and effectively. The credit--and thanks--goes to the elected officeholders, appointed officials, and employees who got the job done.

Thanks for listening,

Friday, April 29, 2005

Which Side Are You On?

An ongoing discussion on Matt Jackson's excellent blog about the current state and utility of unions in Decatur and the nation brings up some interesting points. A number of fair-minded, well-intentioned posters appear to feel that, to some degree, organized labor is responsible for its own current predicament. One even says there needs to be more of an effort to reach a "middle ground" between management and labor, the implication--perhaps wrongly interpreted--being that labor has the most distance to travel. None of this is particularly surprising in this day and age, especially in the light of a persistent anti-union bias in the media that has run unchecked for several decades.

However, I would encourage my friends who might share the sentiments described above to consider a few things. First, you cannot understand the present without a basic awareness of the past. Until recently, it was possible to say without fear of contradiction that no country has a bloodier history of labor-management relations than the United States of America. Sadly, it seems that some Central American nations are trying to catch up by murdering one union activist at a time. The history of American workers' struggles is drenched in blood--mostly that of the workers and their families. Disgracefully, labor history is rarely, if ever, taught in our public schools so names like Ludlow, Homestead, Virden, Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, Haymarket and too many others mean nothing to most Americans. Or the place in Michigan where employer gun thugs set afire a school building containing the wives and children of striking workers. And, as I told my Millikin students, everything you saw the Baldwin-Felts "detectives" do in the movie, "Matewan," actually happened though perhaps not in the exact sequence portrayed by John Sayles.

Okay, so that's ancient history. Corporations no longer employ gun thugs, though 20 years ago ADM had a rather bad experience with the goons it employed through Wackenhut Security. Today, corporations have found more effective, less messy ways to deal with people who want to stand up for their rights. The new hired thugs wear pin-striped suits and carry briefcases and have clean fingernails and degrees from the best universities and are "professionals." Of course, they are lawyers and they can as effectively stifle workers' rights with briefs and delays as did, for a time, the fists and blackjacks of Henry Ford's enforcers.

But, you say, today's employers are more enlightened and would never do anything to keep workers who really wanted a union from having the opportunity to vote one up or down. Well, for starters, the National Labor Relations Board, which oversees such elections, is basically stacked against workers and has been since the early 1980s with the brief exception of some years during the Clinton Presidency. It is the NLRB which investigates unfair labor practices and recommends penalties. Of course, this can take a long time, a very long time and often the union is as dead as the compassion department in Lee Enterprises by the time the case is adjudicated. And as for individual workers, how many of them--or you, for that matter--can afford to be without a job, paying bills on the promise of a NLRB decision that may or may not materialize?

Want an example? Well, you don't even have to leave Decatur to find one of the best. A few years ago, the women who care for developmentally disabled adults at Macon Resources, Inc.--a supposedly enlightened, benevolent social service agency supported to a large degree by state funding through our Democratic Secretary of State Jesse White--expressed interest in forming an AFSMCE local. In response, Macon Resources took a hard line, one that would have warmed the heart of West Virginia's old Tom Felts of Felts-Baldwin, and fired the leading organizers. For the most part, these were women who were making minimum or barely above wages. They had no safety net of savings or accumulated wealth to fall back on. Their education levels were not high and they had no job skills that would allow them to move into higher paying jobs. Macon Resources knew exactly what it was doing and knew--correctly--that the move would intimidate, no, terrorize, the remaining workers. And even if they eventually lost one or more of the cases before the NLRB, it would be a small price to pay for keeping the dreaded union out. This whole sad story was actually covered pretty accurately in the Decatur Herald & Review. Today, there is no union at Macon Resources.

Other so-called enlightened employers, notably the University of Illinois, have gone to great lengths to keep its employees from forming unions.

As to those folks at CAT and other places fortunate enough to have good unions and good wages and good benefits, why should they be blamed for the current state of the global marketplace? Is it the fault of those workers that we sign and ratify trade agreements with nations that pay workers by the cents per hour and sanction, if not initiate, violence against those who stand up for their rights? Are unionized workers the ones making decisions that devastate communities by taking all sorts of tax breaks and then pulling out? For more, see Galesburg. Are unionized workers the ones who rend the fabric of community life by putting employees on 12-hour rotating shifts that leave no time for community activities and, as studies have shown, lead to health problems and reduction in life span?

The list could go on and on. The point is corporations and governments are far, far to the right. Anyone who thinks these entities have the needs, hopes and dreams of working people on their agendas is living in a fool's paradise. Are there union leaders who are out of touch, maybe even corrupt? Probably. Should we condemn ourselves and our children to a work environment more suitable to the late 19th Century in order to "cleanse" labor of these problems? You answer.

The simple facts are these: workers, especially those in the tough jobs that society needs but doesn't want to do, need unions more than ever; workers in better-paying jobs, yes, even jobs demanding high levels of education or skill, need unions more than ever because callousness and greed are the same today as they were in 1910 even if the purveyors try to pass themselves off as good, progressive-minded people; and workers in foreign lands who are being exploited and even killed need unions now more than ever if they are to rise out of the misery and poverty that has afflicted their lands too long.

As the Harlan County coal miner's wife wrote 70 years ago after company gun thugs pulled her husband from their home and beat him to a pulp in the sight of his family:


Bob Sampson

Workers Memorial Day

Once again, the folks who organize the annual Workers Memorial Day ceremony did an outstanding job. The brief gathering was eloquent and moving. Mayor Paul Osborne, in my opinion, took the laurels for an emotional rememberance of his father's sacrifice over principle. "Don't forget where you came from" was the theme of that message. Paul Kendall, who organized the first of the Decatur observances back in the day (as my young teammates on the Ground Squirrels say) when it was held in Central Park, was on hand to provide a living link with the past. Afterwards, I was chatting with Mike Shampine and we recalled the utter disdain with which labor reps were greeted when they approached the City Council about putting the Memorial in Central Park. The project languished for many years until the County Board under Rob Owen made available the present space on the west side of the courthouse. That night before the City Council when a number of council members previously thought to be friendly to labor refused to even entertain the idea of putting a memorial to working people in Central Park was an eye-opening experience for many, including me. But things have a way of working out. We agreed last night that the courthouse location is actually better.

Teaching labor history this semester at Millikin University, I am reminded--usually twice each week--of the difficulty in making the young generation aware of the sacrifices of those who came before. Most, fortunately, have no experiences with unsafe workplaces or poverty or child labor or gun thugs and company goons. I try to break through their obliviousness with pictures and eyewitness accounts. I read at length from a reporter's account of watching people leap to their deaths from the Triangle Shirtwaist Co. factory fire that Saturday in 1910 New York City. "Thud-dead. Thud-dead." That's how he described the sound he heard more than 60 times that day. Did it do any good, I mean with today's students? I suppose if just one of the 21 in the class retains some awareness of that event and how similar situations exist all over the world--including in the United States--today, I will have succeeded.

As many speakers touched on yesterday, echoing Mother Jones, we must mourn the dead but fight like hell for the living. Special thanks, too, to Mike Wakeland for remembering two of our own fallen heroes--Father Martin Mangan and Senator Penny Severns--in his closing prayer.

Thanks for listening.

Friday, March 11, 2005

David Livingston

At about 11 a.m., Wednesday, those of us on the Macon County Board lost a friend and colleague. David Livingston's passing also deprived the people of Decatur and Macon County of a fine public servant and public-spirited citizen. It is easy, though, for us to overlook the fact that David Livingston had a distinguished career of public service long before he took a seat on this board.

Reflecting upon David Livingston's life and his dedicated service to the cause of civil rights, we might ask ourselves, what kind of country was David born into 69 years ago? How close did it come to fulfilling Thomas Jefferson's words in the Declaration of Independence that "all mean are created equal"? It was pretty far off the mark.

In the world David Livingston grew up in segregation was openly practiced in Decatur and in the South. If he traveled through the South, he couldn't stop and use a restroom in a gas station. If he wanted a drink of water, he had to find a fountain labeled "colored." Opportunities were limited for him because of his race. At Nelson Park beach, he was not allowed to swim because of the color of his skin. We were a nation where racism was practiced openly and thoughtlessly. If you doubt this, try to remember the last time you saw a "minstrel" show or other degrading stereotypes passed off as entertainment.

But David Livingston and countless others like him changed this. They made America, they made Decatur, a better place through the commitment of their activism. People who didn't live through those times might assume that the civil rights movement involved only Martin Luther King Jr. and a few preachers, running around holding marches and demonstrations. The civil rights revolution was made and won by thousands, if not millions, of David Livingstons. Many risked their lives; some lost their lives; others faced community and institutional hostility. That they not only persevered but achieved is something all of us should be grateful for. While we are a long way from fulfilling Jefferson's statement as a nation, we are considerably closer than we were when David Livingston entered this world.

Today, I mourn the passing of a friend and colleague. Today, I mourn the passing of a great American, David Livingston.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Fighting Over the Remote While the House Burns Down

Glancing over the headlines and news stories the other day a frightening thought occurred to me: we are fighting over the tv remote control while the house is burning down around us.

For the past couple of years, we've been obsessed in Macon County with our intra-party struggle, personality feud, call it what you will. Yet, at the same time in Springfield--where our party enjoys rare control of the legislature, Governor's mansion, and the Supreme Court--one gets the impression Democrats take more delight in embarrassing one another or generating headline-grabbing quotes critical of members of their own party than governing. Keeping up this sort of behavior is likely to ensure that it will be another 26 or 28 years before we again have a Democratic governor.

Who's to blame? It is pretty hard to make that call from here. It seems fair to say there is plenty of blame to go around. Ego, no doubt, plays a strong role, especially when legislative readers are used to having their consultations referred to by Springfield media as "summits," as if they were determining the fate of civilization, ala FDR, Churchill and Stalin, rather than how the state revenue pie is divided.

We're kidding ourselves if we think the voters are not noticing this behavior. Already we see Republican organs like the Decatur daily eagerly seizing upon the latest spat to drive home their message that state government is in incompetent hands. They conveniently forget the great barbecue of waste, graft and corruption that led to the current state of affairs.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if the leaders in Springfield sat down and thought for a moment about where they might be taking the party and the state? Are their egos so fragile and in need of feeding that they must lash out at fellow party members who hold high office? Are all of these spats based on high principles or something less? It is not too soon for people in the Governor's office and the legislature to start asking themselves these questions.

Hopefully, they will find ways to resolve their differences without trotting to the nearest news reporter or tv camera to vent their spleens. It will be tough enough to re-elect our Governor--don't kid yourselves, Ray LaHood would be a formidable candidate, a moderate Republican in a state that loves those kind of guys as governor. Maybe it's time to stop shooting ourselves in the collective foot with our own rhetoric.

One thing about the situation, though. It makes Macon County's spat look minor.

Well, that's my opinion, for whatever worth you care to assign it.
Best Regards,

Tuesday, February 08, 2005



While many people were and continue to be responsible for the rise and dominance of the Macon County Democratic Party, if you had to pick one person whose role was indispensable Roy Anthony would be a good choice. Although at the time of his sudden death on March 28, 1981, Anthony had not held an "official" position for a number of years, he remained a considerable force in local and state politics. A common comment for years after his passing was, "Gee, I wish Roy Anthony were here to help us work this problem out."

Eulogizing Anthony, John Dunn hit upon a key to his remarkable success by noting that the lifelong bachelor made the Macon County Democratic Party his family. He rose from leader of a dissident faction to precinct committeeman to county chair and state central committeeman. He was courted by governors, presidents, and anyone who wanted to advance in the Democratic Party. At the same time, he was modest, soft-spoken and about as beloved as a politician can ever hope to be.

Only 57 when he died, Anthony was a crew dispatcher for the Norfolk & Western Railway Co., who consistently refused to take any patronage jobs.

"Roy Anthony was one of the great men of our state," said U.S. Senator Alan Dixon the day Anthony died. "He possessed the greatest of attributes--compassion, honesty and intelligence."

Anthony's political rise can be traced back to controversies that tore the Macon County Democracy apart in the mid-1950s. The dominant faction had been in control for many years and the young Turks led by Anthony, Marge Nuding and others. Anthony and the others formed their own organization, the original Jefferson-Jackson Club and rented quarters in the old hotel that housed Dante's Restaurant.

Meeting regularly and hosting social events, the group steadily gained in power and influence. Candidates backed by the Jefferson-Jackson group not only won contested precinct committeemen races but actually beat the then-party chair in his precinct. Anthony himself defeated the party chair in the 1958 race for state central committeeman.

In a move that would mark his future course, Anthony stepped back in 1960 to unite with others around the successful candidacy for party chair of the late Robert M. Owen, father of Rob Owen and uncle of Bruce Owen. At the time of Anthony's death, Robert M. Owen recalled, "He (Anthony) was certainly a driving force in getting some change into the party, bringing in some young folks, and making the party's base broader."

Two years later, when Owen decided not to seek re-election, Anthony became party chair, a post he held for several years. During this time, Macon County Democrats gained a lock on most county offices, though the county board remained a frustration until changes in election dates in 1976 put board seats on the November general election ballot rather than the spring period.

Anthony's style was low-key and friendly. Ironically, the man who built the modern Macon County Democratic Party was the son of a Republican. Not surprisingly, one of the converts Anthony made to the Democracy was his own father. Another was Steve Bean, who grew up across the street from Anthony. On Friday nights while Bean's parents worked at their furniture store, Anthony would come across the street and baby-sit Steve and his siblings. "He was my political father," Bean remembered at the time of Anthony's passing.

When factionalism within the state party became particularly bitter during the Dan Walker administration, Anthony decided to step down from the state central committee on which he served as secretary. However, he quickly transitioned into a behind-the-scenes role and when then-President Jimmy Carter passed through Illinois on a riverboat; Anthony was one of the people he met with.

Although a committed partisan, Anthony did not take politics personally. One of his last visitors at DMH before he died was H.G. "Skinny" Taylor, long-time chair of the Macon County Republican Party. "Roy was a great guy, a dedicated Democrat and a credit to politics," Taylor said upon learning of Anthony's death. "His word was his bond."

The words former State Senator Robert W. McCarthy spoke in March 1981 are as true today as they were then:

"The party needed him and needs him today. Guys like Roy Anthony with their perseverance don't come along all the time."

Monday, January 31, 2005

Joseph Pulitzer Joins Lindsays and Schaubs

The lead story in today's Decatur Herald & Review is one of the most depressing in recent memory in terms of the fabled marketplace of ideas that is supposed to provide the foundation of American democracy. The looming purchase of the Pulitzer properties by Lee, Inc., is something that should give all interested in strong newspapers a reason to pause and reflect on the passing into irrelevancy of the once-great institutions of American journalism. This is in no way meant as disrespectful of the many dedicated, talented and principled people who labor in the trenches for the corporate masters of Lee. We are still fortunate in Decatur to have among our beat reporters some very good journalists working under difficult conditions.

Sadly, the principle has already been established by Gannett that when a money-grubbing chain buys a prestige property, the new property takes on the mediocrity of the chain. How recently have you heard the Louisville Courier-Journal or the Des Moines Register-Tribune referred to as "great" newspapers? Once, they were on everyone's short list. Since Gannett took over, they have become bigger version of the same formula of dullness, boosterism, and profit-above-all-else.

Now, the once-great St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the newspaper that launched the career of Joseph Pulitzer and led to the birth of what was perhaps America's greatest newspaper, the New York World, is about to come under control of Lee, Inc. My heart aches for the staff of the Pulitzer properties, particularly the flagship, who are about to find out how the average American newspaper is conducted.

Send a good thought or two their way and pray that the Internet or some other communications breakthrough on the horizon will allow once again a freer flow of ideas in the United States that will, hopefully, eventually undermine and collapse the rotten crust of Fox and its broadcast and print clones.

Sadly, with best regards,