President Barack Obama visited Springfield Wednesday to speak in front of a gridlocked Illinois General Assembly.
Visiting his adopted home state nine years later, to the day, that he announced his presidential run, Obama called on state lawmakers to compromise like they did when he was in the state legislature close to a decade ago.
"We wouldn't bend our deepest-held principles, but we were willing to forge compromises to achieve our goals," the president said of his time in the Illinois General Assembly. "If you were willing to listen, it was possible to bridge a lot of differences."
Obama talked about the amount of vitriol in the world of politics as of late, lamenting its negative effect on the act of governing.
"What's different today is the nature and extent of the polarization," said the president.
"So often these debates, particularly in Washington but increasingly in state legislatures, become abstractions," he said. As a result, voters are becoming increasingly disaffected by a political process that "encourages the kind of ideological fealty that rejects any form of compromise as weakness," according to Obama.
The president went on to say that being unable to alleviate the partisan strife in Washington D.C. is one of the "few regrets" of his now-waning time in the White House.
"One of my few regrets is to reduce the polarization and meanness in our politics," said Obama. "I was able to be part of that here and yet couldn't translate it the way I wanted to, to our politics in Washington."
Obama also discussed the issue of redistricting, saying in jest that gerrymanding is the reason "why our districts are shaped like earmuffs or spaghetti."
John T. Hooker, chairman of The People's Map, a political organization that is largely opposed to efforts to change the redistricting process due to the potentially negative impact such revisions could have on minority communities, released a statement attempting to quantify the president's comments:
I have immense respect for President Obama and we're always excited and honored when he comes back home to Illinois. But the president's comments about redistricting were very general in nature and were not intended to be an endorsement of the misguided efforts to change redistricting here in Illinois.
The so-called 'reforms' proposed in Illinois will devastate the voices of minority communities and minority voters. The NAACP itself has noted that so-called "reform" proposals must be viewed with a skeptical eye, stating that some redistricting reform efforts have suppressed minority voting rights.
As drafted, there is no way to ensure minority representation on the proposed commission and no way to ensure that communities of color would be protected. The minority community would lose the strong voice it currently has to ensure protection in Illinois' remapping process. That would result in the loss of representation in the General Assembly for minorities, middle-class families and struggling families that are the fabric of our neighborhoods and our state.
Senate President John Cullerton, who sent the president a letter requesting that he come speak to the legislature in light of the state's dire straits, released the following statement in response to Obama's Springfield visit:
Twice this man has rallied the country to dare us to see a better future and invigorated the American spirit. I have had the honor of a front-row seat to witness my friend's personal and professional growth from a colleague here in the Illinois Senate to leader on the world stage.
I've watched a consistency of character guide him in his challenge to improve the lives of the people he represented first in Chicago, then this state and ultimately across our country. Along the way, he has challenged each and every one of us to be the solution, to rise above rhetoric, refuse to be so easily divided and recognize avenues for agreement even among those who disagree.
As this chapter in his uniquely American story begins to draw to a close, I am left inspired by a message I first heard from a young community organizer seeking a seat in the Illinois Senate: that if we are to have a better country, we must never stop believing in a better country.