Pressed up against the big shoulders of Chicago is a suburban county that has been governed by Republicans since sometime after Noah’s Flood. While the state of Illinois, which hasn’t seen full Republican leadership since the 1950’s, struggles with the second-worst credit rating in the nation, DuPage sits on a Aaa, shared by only 2% of the nation’s counties. While Chicago, Cook County, and the state struggle to shed a legacy of entrenched official corruption, DuPage County leadership rarely sees the FBI.
The generations of Republican leadership here have produced sound fiscal responsibility and remarkably capable day-to-day administration. DuPage County is a living example of what pragmatic Republican governance can accomplish.
You might imagine that this picture of “sound fiscal responsibility” in Republican hands means spartan public services consistently sacrificed in the interests of low taxes. This is not Texas.
My home is in a leafy suburb, yet we only keep one car. The train is an easy walk from here, even in the winter. The same goes for the grocery store, movie theater, pool, parks, and shops. The kids walk to school. Our Republican Congressmen are not using their influence to block federal funding for local rail transit. Quite the opposite, in fact.
Public capital is abundant and well-maintained. There is a park within walking distance nearly everywhere and the Illinois Prairie Path sustains 62 miles of beautiful hike and bike trails in a unique public-private partnership. The county is dotted with a matrix of local museums, nature centers and public pools. For someone who grew up fishing at Lake Rayburn, it’s a slightly disorienting experience to help your kid land a perch in the shadow of an office tower, but it’s still nice. Plus, it’s close to home and inexpensive.
The county offers some of the best public schools in the country as well as a dense network of public-funded community colleges and continuing education programs that reach deep into our communities. The local parks districts in addition to their other duties maintain gyms and other athletic facilities at reduced rates. Great places for kids’ sports, yoga classes, etc.
After a lifetime in the South, the libraries here seem like something out of a science-fiction movie. I don’t know how to begin to describe these book-palaces which make some major university libraries look like warehouses. Since they’re tied into a network of greater-Chicago area institutions, you can get almost anything, quickly, and order it online. If none of the metro libraries stock a certain book you’re looking for (very rare), send an email and they’ll find it. You can drive through and pick it up in a couple of weeks.
Thanks to the professionalism and investment that goes into these institutions, the library sits at the center of many communities here, a hangout for kids and adults, especially in the winter. My family has 8-10 books checked out at any given moment.
Republicans here are not balancing the budget by running some Libertarian experiment in zero-public-capital government. They are making prudent choices about how best to use available resources and that even means occasionally raising taxes or issuing bonds.
So, taxes must be sky-high, right? That was perhaps the biggest surprise of all. When I moved from Houston to suburban Chicago eight years ago my overall tax bill dropped significantly because Illinois funds a portion of its public services through a novel mechanism – they call it an “income tax.”
In Texas I was squarely in the bull’s-eye of the state’s regressive tax system – young, middle income, and a relatively new home-owner. Texas’s spectacular property and sales taxes hit hard early in a career. It’s no wonder Texans feel they are being taxed to death in spite of enjoying federal tax rates at historic lows.
Many years later I now pay more in taxes here than I would in Texas, but that’s because my income has grown. I’m entirely okay with that. Paying more now that I have more makes obvious sense.
Republicans here cling to strong traditional values, but by some miracle that leaves room for them to support families through meaningful public services. Party meetings here do not open with a prayer, which I initially thought was an oversight. Many of these folks will eat their chicken sandwich with pride, but I’ve yet to personally hear a conspiracy theory, a gay slur, Birther nonsense, or some goofball smear expressed at a party meeting.
And a strange wonder lurks around the margins. Here in this Republican Jurassic Park I have once or twice spotted a liberal Republican [republicanus obscuris]. Younger readers might not realize that such an awkward creature once existed in the wild. We still have a few people here who combine traditional conservative positions on fiscal matters with a passionate respect for labor unions, concern for the immigrants and the poor, belief in a woman’s untrammeled right to an abortion, and enthusiasm for environmental protection. They are rare and odd, but as real as the platypus.
Here on the Lost Island of Rational Republicans, life is pretty good. Obama was the first Democrat to carry this county at any time in modern history (I can’t find any other time that happened and I researched it back to the ‘30’s). He won by more than ten points and he will probably carry the county this fall. In fact, given conditions at the national level, one wonders when a Republican Presidential candidate will be competitive here again. However, the local Republican leadership remains quite popular.
They deliver a practical, valuable suite of public services with efficiency and transparency. They have steered the county clear of the union-patronage and corruption that cripples so many Democratic local governments. Republicans in this remarkable place deliver solid representation without drama, hyperbole, or theatrics. They serve their constituents and they win.
These folks deserve a chance to lead Illinois and in a better world they would be the model for the national Republican Party. I’ll be supporting them this fall as always.