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(Op-Ed) Better Politics, Smarter Government: Inviting Illinoisans to identify statesmanship in Prairie State

(Editor’s Note: This op-ed was distributed by Capitol News Illinois on behalf of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.)


John T. Shaw (Photo courtesy Paul Simon Public Policy Institute)

“A statesman,” said the great Prussian diplomat Otto von Bismark, “is a politician who thinks of his grandchildren.”

Three years ago, former Illinois Governor Jim Edgar and I decided to create the Paul Simon-Jim Edgar Statesmanship Award to shine a spotlight on remarkable leadership that is taking place in our state and our communities.

We were looking for Illinois political leaders who are thinking about their grandchildren – and acting to create a better future for them.

The annual Simon-Edgar Statesmanship Award is presented to an elected state or local government official in Illinois who has demonstrated a pattern of public service characterized by vision, courage, compassion, effectiveness, civility, and bipartisanship.

I believe that Governor Edgar and Senator Paul Simon, the founder of the Institute that I’m privileged to lead, represent the best of Illinois statesmanship. Governor Edgar, a loyal Republican, and Senator Simon, a steadfast Democrat, were always willing to work with members of the other party and independents to get things done for Illinois.

Governor Edgar and I are eager to receive and review nominations about inspiring leaders in Illinois — mayors who are crafting creative plans for their cities and making hard decisions to realize their aspirations; city council members who are committed to long-term strategies for their communities; and state legislators and constitutional officers who are willing to break from party orthodoxy to advance solutions that improve the lives of fellow Illinoisans.

For our inaugural award, we selected 11 Republican members of the Illinois General Assembly who supported a critical budget package in July 2017, breaking from their party in the interest of fiscal solvency for Illinois. That budget ended a two-year fiscal stalemate that tarnished Illinois’ reputation, damaged schools, battered the state’s credit rating, and led to about $15 billion in unpaid bills. The 2017 budget paved the way for subsequent fiscal progress in the state as reflected in upgrades to Illinois’ credit by rating agencies.

(Image courtesy Paul Simon Public Policy Institute)

Last year we selected former House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie as the recipient of the Simon-Edgar Award. We cited her four decades of forceful, creative, consequential, and civil leadership in the Illinois General Assembly. Representative Currie, a Democrat, served in the Illinois General Assembly from 1979 to 2019 and was the House Majority Leader from 1997 to 2019. She helped create Illinois’ Earned Income Tax Credit, championed clear air and water legislation, pushed for the first Freedom of Information Act, advocated for same sex marriage, drafted critical school funding and juvenile justice reforms, and fought to end the death penalty in Illinois.

The nomination process for this year’s Simon-Edgar Award opened on April 1 and we are accepting nominations until June 1. To nominate a candidate or candidates, please write a brief letter describing how the person has displayed the qualities of statesmanship outlined above. Please send an email to or send your letter to Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Southern Illinois University, Mail Code 4429, 1231 Lincoln Drive, Carbondale, IL, 62901-4304.

Governor Edgar and I are confident that the nominations we receive this year will identify exceptional leaders who are improving Illinois and giving us confidence about the future.

The recipient of the 2023 Simon-Edgar Award will be announced in early August.

John Shaw is the director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. Shaw’s monthly column explores how Illinois can work toward better politics and smarter government.


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