The strength of any state is its people. To succeed and grow, a state needs its citizens to be engaged, both civically and economically.
A state needs people who can start businesses that employ people. A state also needs even more people who can shop at those businesses and spend money. All of those people driving to the mall, parking their cars, and walking in with their credit cards may not be as exciting as a few hedge fund managers being driven to their private jets, but in aggregate they do more for the economy of their state.
A state needs people to run for office, to be its governor and its legislators. A state also needs even more people who can support its leaders and their policies by voting, by organizing, and by supporting.
The states that have more people engaged, both in civics and in economics, are (almost by definition) more successful. The more productive members a society has, the better. A society centered around its billionaires and elected officials is an unequal and unsuccessful one.
Governor Rauner of Illinois has a choice to make for his state. He can sign into law or veto two bills currently sitting on his desk, one to raise the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour and one to put in place automatic voter registration. Both of these bills would be transformative in engaging currently disengaged residents of his state, strengthening the state’s economy and civic life in the process.
People can not be happy if they are worried about falling off the track of society. People can not be happy if they are worried every day because they know that something as small as needing a few hundred dollars to repair a car means that they have no way of getting to the mall, of getting to work, and of maintaining their middle class lives. Too many people, in Illinois and across our nation, have that worry.
Do they have time or means to fill out forms and register to vote? Possibly, yes, but many who are already struggling don’t have the time or energy to take the initiative to do it themselves, and they see no reason to bother. They feel disconnected from their own government. The constitution starts out “We, the people…” but for so many Americans it is not “we, the people” but it is “they, the government”.
Governor Rauner has the power to change this in Illinois. The bills are on his desk. He can sign the laws to include vastly more Illinois citizens in both the economic life (by raising the minimum wage) and the civic life (by registering them to vote) of the state. Every resident of Illinois deserves a chance to succeed and be heard, now it’s up to Governor Rauner to give them that chance.