By DENNIS GRUBAUGH
The year was 1979, and there he was, a baby-faced, 30-something politician wandering through a sea of Democrats inside the Wood River Moose Lodge, shaking hands with most of the people he met.
One of the hands he shook that day was mine. I was a rookie reporter with the Wood River Journal, sent there to see about some kind of story, I forget just what. But I never forgot the face nor the name of the man I met. There was something about him that seemed destined for … good.
From that day until this, whenever he saw me, Bill Haine called me by name, which is saying something, given the gazillion people he’s met through the years. He started as a Madison County Board member, but his talent and goodwill carried him to one of the finest political careers ever in Southern Illinois, including longtime stints as state’s attorney and state senator.
It is fitting, at the end of this 40-year stretch, to say some nice words about Bill, who did not stand for re-election and retired this past month. He won’t be part of the swearing-in ceremonies in Springfield for the first time since 2002.
A decorated Vietnam War veteran, father of seven and grandfather (at last count) of 33, he is now 74. His last couple of years have been slowed by treatment for cancer, but he’s approaching retirement in the same high-spirited way that he approached his career.
Haine’s path paralleled mine. I routinely saw and interviewed him in his roles with county and state government. Eventually, I was city editor of The Telegraph and compelled occasionally to write an editorial that took Bill — an Alton native — to task. He never held opinions against me, although he would call once in a while to defend a position.
It’s hard being an elected official or a member of the press. Neither gets the credit they deserve, and neither deserves the scorn foisted upon them. There is a sacred middle ground that we both strive to achieve, and if we do the job right, we sometimes antagonize parties on both sides of an issue. Bill Haine staked his ground well.
Without his effort, we wouldn’t have made major improvements to our levees in Southwestern Illinois. We wouldn’t have developed the wonderful Madison County Transit system (for which he was a founding board chairman). We wouldn’t have dozens and dozens of bills that improved law enforcement and other fields in Illinois. He understood Downstate’s interconnectivity and did his best to make sure things didn’t come apart, as they almost did during the administrations of Govs. Rod Blagojevich and Bruce Rauner. Haine took both men both to task, as he should have.
Part of his success was a penchant for truth-telling. Reporters loved him because of his quotability. Ask him one question and just let him go. And what a way with words. One day at a county board meeting, I heard him discredit a colleague’s proposal as so much “bovine scatology.” I had to look that one up.
Last summer, at a Realtors breakfast, he talked about his career, proud to have accomplished much in an increasingly bipartisan atmosphere. He noted how a wide variety of groups on opposite sides of the political divide endorsed his last election effort.
“That shows how far bulls— can go,” he said, breaking up the audience. That one, even city folks will understand.
Here’s to a long and happy retirement, Bill.
Dennis Grubaugh is editor and partner of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (618) 977-6865.
By DENNIS GRUBAUGH