Lawmakers, Non-Profit Leaders Named Edgar Fellows
By Sean Powers
Recipients of a fellowship named after former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar attended a summit this week at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
The program, which was the first of its kind, brought together 40 leaders who work in public office or for non-profit organizations. Gov. Edgar said it is an opportunity to bridge political divides that can slow down progress in state government.
“The friendships they would develop across party lines I think would bold well for trying to lessen the polarization we’re seeing in politics, and get back to the things that I saw when I first started in government,” Edgar said. "My hope is that these people have a great chance of moving up the ladder, and someday one of them might be governor of the state of Illinois, one might be mayor of the city of Chicago. I think it would be great if they knew each other for many years, and knew how to work with each other."
The Edgar fellows attended a series of seminars on a range of topics, including dealing with the budget crisis, addressing crime and punishment, and talking to the media. Among the guest speakers at the summit were Attorney General Lisa Madigan, former White House Chief of Staff William Daley, and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle.
On Tuesday, Preckwinkle was criticized at the summit for saying Ronald Reagan’s “War on Drugs” earned him “a special place in hell.” She was defending Chicago's recent decision to allow police to ticket people for possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than arresting them.
She later apologized for her comment about Reagan, but maintained her critical stance about heightened drug enforcement laws created during his administration
Edgar admits Preckwinkle could have chosen her words better, but he said her comments may open up a renewed discussion about the nation’s drug enforcement policy.
“I understand what her concern was and I think it’s a very legitimate issue that we need to have a much broader discussion than we may be have is are our drug policy correct?" he said. "Are we incarcerating too many people? The big thing driving our prisons is the drug offenders. Is that working? Is that the right strategy?"
Another round of Edgar fellows will be chosen next year.