Take advantage of opportunities, former governor tells students

By Salwa Shameem

“If you’re going to be successful in politics, there’s not a straight, linear path to get to your goals,” former Gov. Jim Edgar told a crowded lecture hall of students and academics.

The former Republican governor of Illinois, now a distinguished fellow at the U of I Institute of Government and Public Affairs, shared the rewards and tribulations of pursuing a political career during a talk Nov. 28 for the “Future of Chicago” lecture series, cosponsored by the political science department and UIC Honors College.

Jim Edgar

Politics is “more than just ideology and issues,” former Gov. Jim Edgar tells students.

Edgar joked about his first taste of politics in an elementary school election and his surprising discovery as a young child of his parents’ Democratic affiliation. It was then, he said, that he knew he wanted to take on complex issues and offer solutions through leadership.

Politics is “more than just ideology and issues,” Edgar said; it’s also about character. Edgar views himself as a moderate Republican, what he thinks many voters consider to be a vanishing breed.

It’s important to avoid the alienation of voters, especially women and minorities, he said. Presidential candidate Mitt Romey made a poor strategic decision by using rhetoric that estranged women, he said.

“I’ve learned early on that if you’re running for office, pay attention to women,” Edgar said. “You don’t want to do what Gov. Romney did, which is move too far to the right and then back to the center. People don’t believe you then.”

Women are not the only voters that Republicans have had difficulty incorporating into their political policy objectives. Historically, Edgar said, Republicans have not done well with African American and Hispanic voters.

Traditionally, Republicans “have been viewed as anti-immigration,” affronting Latino and Asian American communities, Edgar said.

Debate surrounding the DREAM Act and Republican opposition has been a point of contention between immigrants’ rights organizations and some Illinois legislators.

“We need to change that image and demonstrate that we welcome immigrants…that they are extremely important to the fabric of this nation,” Edgar said. “Even if we wanted to deport the 10 to 12 million undocumented persons, you just can’t do it. We need to address the reality.”

When asked about what can be done at the state level to mobilize support for minorities, Edgar said. Republicans and Democrats should support Illinois legislation focused on providing undocumented immigrants temporary driver’s licenses.

Edgar asserts that compromise and progressive thinking must be advocated on both sides of the debate.

On the issue of education in inner cities, “there won’t ever be enough money for schools — education is going to have to figure how to use resources as well as they can,” Edgar said.

“We hope that they [schools] can hold onto what they have.”

He also discussed university funding and tuition increases.

Senior Precious Marie Walker, who is concerned with rising tuition rates, was glad that Edgar touched on the issue of decreasing tuition by moving funds from other less impactful projects.

“Education is an important tool for all to achieve upward mobility, both socially and financially,” said Walker, a senior in psychology.

Ljiridona Redzepi was also interested in Edgar’s stance on university education.

“I thought that he really understood the importance that public universities play in the lives of average Americans who cannot afford to attend expensive, private colleges,” said Redzepi, a freshman in political science.

At 28, Edgar was certain his career was over after losing a critical primary election. He provided students with words of advice, urging them to stay the course and face any challenges they may encounter.

“If you persevere and have a little bit of luck, you can reach your goals,” he said. “Be ready to take advantage of opportunities that come your way.”

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