Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Sun-Times. June 19, 2022.

Editorial: Give kayakers and canoeists the right to paddle on small Illinois waterways

An Illinois Supreme Court ruling leaves recreational paddlers and fishing enthusiasts up the creek.

Last week, the Illinois Supreme Court scuttled the hopes of kayakers and canoeists who want the right to paddle along small rivers and streams. The Legislature ought to toss a life preserver to the boaters by enshrining that right into law.

Unlike in some nearby states, Illinois law dating back to the 1800s does not make it clear kayakers and canoeists can legally paddle wherever water is deep enough to float their watercraft. Waterways are considered public property only if they are designated as navigable by commercial traffic.

That means a landowner who owns both sides of a smaller stream, or even some pretty big ones that are classified as non-navigable, can legally bar anyone from paddling or fishing on it. Goodbye to recreational use on that waterway.

That doesn’t square with laws in Wisconsin and Michigan, where any stream more than a few inches deep is publicly owned. In Michigan, that allows trout fishing enthusiasts to walk the trout streams, although they are not allowed to get out onto private property.

Unlike England, where landowners own the bottoms of non-tidal rivers that run across their property, America decided navigable rivers should be public spaces. But under the muddy waters of complicated laws, the definition of “navigable” can leave out recreational paddling.

Of the three streams that flow together to form the North Branch of the Chicago River, for example, the Middle Fork is considered navigable and accessible to the public. The other two branches — the West Fork and the Skokie River — are not. In theory, those two could be blocked by anyone who owns the land on both sides, although the owners are largely forest preserve and park districts.

On Thursday, in a Grundy County case involving the 28-mile-long Mazon River, the high court sided with landowners and said they can block off waterways to paddlers and fishing enthusiasts. The case involved owners of land-locked property along the river who wanted the right to kayak to and from their property, where they searched for fossils. The Mazon River, also known as the Mazon Creek, is known for its Coal Age fossils.

A large majority of waterways in Illinois are classified as non-navigable. One fear is that, as word gets out about the ruling, more landowners will decide to close them off. As an environmentalist said to us on Friday in a one-word comment: “Yikes.”

The Supreme Court justices were not unanimous in their thinking. Justice P. Scott Neville, joined by Justice Anne Burke, wrote: “(I)t is time for Illinois to move away from its common law that limits the use of non-navigable lakes, rivers and streams to riparian landowners and move to the recreational navigation doctrine, so that all waterways are available to the public for recreational use.”

Around the state, some landowners string fences, including barbed wire, across streams and creeks. Some recreational paddlers are said to bring wire cutters with them so they can snip their way through. Others lift up the wires so they can pass underneath. Making scofflaws of people who want to enjoy some riparian recreation is not a good solution.

Where fences are needed to keep livestock from wandering away, exemptions from expanded access to waterways will need to be made. But there’s generally no reason to close off waterways running through natural areas or cropland, which covers much of Illinois.

During the pandemic, as people turned to the outdoors to escape the feeling of being hemmed in, many of them gained a new appreciation of being out in nature. It’s a shame that the waters of Illinois are not all considered public.


Chicago Tribune. June 18, 2022.

Editorial: Misery at the gas station, but let’s keep everything in perspective

Ask practically anyone in the Chicago area about the price of gasoline and you can count on hearing a diatribe. As of Thursday, Cook County averaged a shocking $5.96 per gallon for regular unleaded, according to AAA. Motorists are angry, and no wonder.

Sticker shock at the pump has become Exhibit A of how inflation is pushing up the cost of living across the board. For the many businesses reliant on gas, diesel or jet fuel, high costs are hammering growth plans and profitability. It’s small consolation that Europe is suffering even more, as Russia’s war on Ukraine sends European Union members scrambling for alternative oil and gas suppliers. Prices in the U.K. are now close to the equivalent of $9 a U.S. gallon.

Previous energy shocks suggest that high prices won’t go away anytime soon. During the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74, prices soared and never returned to their previous levels, apart from a couple of short-term blips in the market.

Yet as painful as they are to live through, a surprising lot of good can come out of these debacles. We hope the U.S. is on track for some positives once the sting of higher prices begins to subside.

For starters, the world now recognizes the folly of relying too heavily on energy supplies from Russia — or any other corrupt autocratic power, for that matter. The EU had been importing 27% of its oil and 40% of its natural gas from Russia. Now, belatedly, it’s shifting gears. Landlocked countries like Hungary will take longer to wean themselves off energy from Putin & Co., but over time the EU is on track to become less dependent on Russian imports.

America learned a similar lesson during the 1970s, when Arab countries protesting U.S. support for Israel cut off supplies. At the time, the U.S. had price controls in place that discouraged domestic oil production, contributing to an artificial supply shortfall and long lines at gas stations. Removing those price controls not only revived domestic production but also, happily, discouraged similar anti-free-market regulations in the future.

Although oil imports went up again after going down in the immediate aftermath of the crisis, America today is less dependent on imported oil and gets more of its foreign supply from the friendly governments of Canada and Mexico. The country is better off for it.

Another legacy of the 1970s oil shock was a steady increase in energy efficiency in everything from transportation and power generation to household appliances. Part of the impetus was the political necessity to “do something.” The oil embargo pressured the U.S. to adopt fuel-economy standards for passenger vehicles, a gas-saving, 55-mph highway speed limit and increased government support for alternative energy sources such as solar and wind — mostly positives from our point of view.

The 1970s also were a decade of reckoning for the U.S. Federal Reserve. Faced with skyrocketing inflation and slow growth, the Fed raised and lowered interest rates in stop-and-go fashion, making it impossible for businesses to plan future investments. The result was stagflation — inflation plus a stagnant economy.

Pundits who say the country is facing another period of stagflation to rival the 1970s clearly don’t remember the 1970s. True, inflation is at a 40-year high, but the U.S. economy is a lot stronger now than it was, interest rates are still lower and, importantly, the Fed is a different beast, providing much clearer advance guidance on its intentions and goals.

Anyone who lived through the 1970s also surely recalls the finger-pointing that characterized political discourse. Politicians casting blame on others is not something invented in the current era by the rise of Fox News, MSNBC or Twitter.

The list of villains for the Arab oil embargo started with the Arab oil producers, naturally, but also included Detroit automakers, multinational oil companies and hapless federal bureaucrats, among other juicy targets. Publicity hounds like Ralph Nader were active in spreading conspiracy theories. Sound familiar?

The finger-pointing had its most obvious effect on presidents. If not for the Watergate scandal, Richard Nixon might have been best remembered for his mismanagement of the national economy. Gerald Ford hardly did better, and Jimmy Carter was an apt punching bag for the economic disaster of the late 1970s.

The low approval ratings of President Joe Biden are no accident and, if gasoline stays near $6a gallon, he and other Democrats will pay a price at the ballot box during the midterm elections later this year.

When the dust clears from this latest energy shock, let’s hope America and its closest allies emerge more self-reliant, smarter about economic policy and careful to conserve precious energy. The last thing America needs is a rerun of the 1970s.


Arlington Heights Daily Herald. June 16, 2022.

Editorial: Two examples of a statesmanship missing in today’s politics

In the space of less than two weeks, the notion of political statesmanship lost two prominent models from Illinois at a time when it needs them most.

Former Congressman John Porter, of Wilmette, died Friday, June 3, at the age of 87.

Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan, of Elmhurst, died Sunday at the age of 76.

The two Republicans worked in notably different political spheres -- Porter, a 21-year congressman from the North Shore’s 10th District; Ryan, a two-term Illinois attorney general who lost a 2002 bid for governor against Rod Blagojevich. But when people remember their work and their reputations, certain words keep coming up for them both.

Words like class. Independence. Grace. Character. Openness. Dedication. Courage.

About Ryan, we had this to say when we endorsed him for the Republican nomination for governor in 2010: “Illinois needs a governor with innovative problem-solving skills, impeccable ethics and the courage to stand up to the bullies who have controlled Springfield for too many years. Over the years, we have used those very words -- innovative, impeccable and courageous -- to describe (him)...”

How many of today’s state or federal political leaders would inspire such warmth and respect from any of us?

Some, indeed. But far too few.

How much better our political discourse would be today, how much more productive our politics, if voices and temperaments like theirs were dominant.

In an email relating reflections on both men, former Daily Herald Managing Editor Madeleine Doubek, now executive director of the government watchdog group CHANGE Illinois, recalled Porter’s prominent bipartisan efforts to bolster human rights efforts around the world and boost funding for health research at home. She remembered the grace and humor she witnessed during a visit as a political reporter to Ryan’s family home when he was in the thick of one of his several battles with cancer over the years.

“We’re losing people who championed the courage of their convictions and who did so in reasoned, reasonable and respectful ways,” Doubek wrote. “Those qualities seem to be in short or nonexistent supply in our public discourse today.”

Reason. Reasonableness. Respect. How about those for the three R’s of political leadership that should be the fundamental course of study for elected officials and would-be elected officials? In the midst of a midterm campaign year that seems in constant search of new lows for acrimony and personal insults, we find ourselves desperately longing for voices like those we have lost.

In different political arenas, Jim Ryan and John Porter produced long-lasting achievements -- in health care, human rights, criminal justice, fiscal management and just plain good government. They succeeded because they were leaders of conviction who put honor and the needs of people ahead of personal or partisan political expediency.

We mourn their loss. We yearn for more leaders of today to study their example.