Back when there was such a thing as a liberal Republican politician, James Thompson was the GOP’s rising star.
“Big Jim” — he stood 6 feet 6 inches — was Illinois’ longest-serving governor. The native Chicagoan was elected four times and served 14 years. Though the most popular governor of the past half century, talk of his running as a Republican candidate for president in the late 1970s was scuttled in part by his strong convictions, beliefs that he refused to abandon merely to achieve his lifelong dream.
“I still believe that a reasonable pro-choice position is not only right but is a majority view of my party,” he once said. “But it’s not the majority view of the people who control my party.”
Thompson died Friday, according to his wife, Jayne Thompson. He was 84.
As a zealous federal prosecutor in the early 1970s, he sped the collapse of Cook County’s Democratic machine. Early in his career Thompson helped put one Illinois governor in prison and toward his career’s end he worked tirelessly and in vain trying to keep another out of jail.
As governor, Thompson spurred construction of more highways and prisons than any other governor — he needed those prisons to house all the inmates incarcerated after he pushed through Class X mandatory minimums in his first term.
Thompson expanded McCormick Place, fought to keep the White Sox in Chicago when the team was practically on a plane to Florida, and built the $173 million salmon-and-blue Loop government office building later named for him. He also supported legislation that cleared the way for what would become the United Center.
To do all this, however, he had to raise taxes — the largest increase up to that point in state history — which caused his popularity to suffer in his last term, particularly after he arranged for the legislature to double his own pension.
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My high school band played at Thompson’s 1977 inauguration, after which he thanked us. After shaking my hand, he shook hands with the drum major, saying, “Good job, young man.” She took in stride! (Our uniforms were not kind to the female form, and the bearskin hats didn’t help.)ReplyDelete
I remember Thompson as an occasionally heavy-footed campaigner (I have a vague memory of him riding a horse, or some damn thing, to upstage an opponent's press conference) and a competent caretaker of government. If he inspired any feelings of warmth, much less loyalty, they weren't from me.ReplyDelete
I think it's symptomatic of where we are now that when it comes to elected officials, a record of competent caretaking now elicits sighs of nostalgia.
Scibe , Neil described the horse and the occasion in his piece . I know reading about the former governor is a chore but Neil did such a nice job of not slamming him I stuck with it. The last paragraph he let his slip show a bit. I don't think he was a fan of the big manDelete
Jim was the first and only Republican Governor I voted for, simply because his good friend Sam Skinner was, at that time, married to my husband’s grandmother’s daughter’s sister, Sue. We had New Years’s Eve snacks at their home every year, until they were divorced.ReplyDelete
(should read: “...married to my husband’s grandmother’s sister’s daughter”)Delete
A big guy, a big life, big placement for our host's fine obit. Oh, for the days when a Republican politician was actually interested in utilizing the government for constructive purposes on behalf of the polity, rather than seeking to drown it in a bathtub. Clearly being "reasonably" pro-choice was a bridge too far, even then, however.ReplyDelete
I certainly remember the lurid clemency hearing, and Steve Dahl's song, though not Royko's apt descriptor.
If one may inquire a bit into how the sausage is made, does "Contributing: Michael Sneed" mean she shared an anecdote or was there more to it than that?
Funny story, Coey, and "husband’s grandmother’s daughter’s sister" is quite the mouthful, Sandy. : )
Big Jim Thompson had quite a track record. I remember when Paul Wigoda was put away. He was my alderman when I lived in East Rogers Park. And the Gary Dotson hearing...whatta circus that was. I think it was even broadcast live on the radio. Whatever happened to that dude? Did he ever turn his life around?ReplyDelete
As soon as I saw the flooring pattern, I knew where it was. I often had lunch at the State of Illinois office building. Many a baked potato, with all the trimmings, followed by a Dove Bar. Their food court was one of the first places to sell them that was not on the South Side.
That floor space, in the center of the food court, is at the bottom of the huge multi-story atrium. It always made me nervous. It seemed like the perfect bullseye for committing suicide. When that finally happened, it happened in the morning. At least it wasn't at lunchtime.
The building's quirky architectural style also made it a big target (sorry) for the critics. All that glass turned the upper floors into a giant greenhouse. State employees fried in the summer months, despite the air conditioning. I can't recall if they finally got any relief before Thompson's fourth term ended. I had to go up there once. Then I knew how a pie feels in a pizza oven.
When the state of Illinois building was originally designed the plan was to use a geothermal system to augment the HVAC . So the mechanical system was undersized and the geo thermal either never was functional or never included in the final plans. There weren't enough BTUs to cool the place adequately and the retrofit was a fortune. The place is an albatross . I believe the state tried to sell it. Hopefully someone will tear it down and replace it with a functional more appealing structure or a parkDelete
I know one isn't supposed to speak ill of the dearly departed, but I always thought of him as "Big Fink."ReplyDelete