Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Gentleman Legislator

When somebody first told me last night that Rep. Bill Black wasn't going to run again in 2008, it inexplicably hit me like a ton of bricks. Politics aside, Bill and I have agreed on a lot of things, disagreed on others, but we have always shared a reverence for the institution.

His theatrics have been fodder for journalists and visitors alike, but since I've been here, I've learned to appreciate his mastery of when to tone his rhetoric way up (way way up) or way down in order to achieve his desired result. I've seen him do and say things that wouldn't be tolerated from anybody else, but when they come from Bill, they take on a different character and have a different impact.

Bill's passion for his district has never been contrived. He has steadfastly fought for those issues that matter to the people he represents, and whoever it is that follows him will indeed have a tough standard to measure up to.

But what I admire most about Bill Black is his sincere respect for the process. He knows as well as any of us do that politics is an integral part of the process, but he never lets anybody forget that there is a process, a way of how things are supposed to be done in the Legislature, that is bigger than any of us.

Not a Democrat/Republican process; not a Chicago/Central Illinois/Downstate process; but an obligation to remember that this institution should prevail over the whims or agendas of the men and women who temporarily serve in it.

I sat with Bill in his office today, needing to know what could lead a man whose love for the job is so great to leave it, and I got the one answer that I knew it had to be. His family.

We talked of grandkids, and parents, and the realization that our lives keep ticking by with every passing session. And that the time has to come when you deserve to, need to, put your full focus where it needs to be. That lesson becomes that much clearer in a session like this one, with countless family plans having been canceled. It's no wonder that a number of veteran legislators have said 'enough', and I wouldn't be surprised if there were more to follow.

Many men and women have served in the Illinois House over the years. Only a handful of them have made any meaningful impact. Bill Black is in that handful. I've tried to learn a lot from Bill, and if I've only taken away a fraction of it, I'll be a better legislator for having served with him. The Illinois House is a better place for having had him in it.

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