Illinois residents trickled north over the Wisconsin state line this weekend to take advantage of newly reopened bars, restaurants and shops after the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down Gov. Tony Evers’ stay-at-home order last week.
The situation is similar to other areas of the state where people in Illinois have crossed the state’s roughly 1,000 miles of borders with Iowa, Missouri, Indiana and soon will do the same with Kentucky, which is on track to reopen its economy.
While Illinois’ five border states have always been a source of tension ripe for comparing anything from tax rates and regulatory schemes, anger over Gov. JB Pritzker’s continued stay-at-home order has boiled over as Illinois becomes an island while other states loosen restrictions.
GOP leaders also blasted the governor after he acknowledged his wife and daughter had traveled from Florida — where they had been before his order — home to Chicago and have also visited the family’s horse farm in Racine, Wisconsin.
The Illinois Republican Party called the Pritzker’s border crossing “hypocrisy” and attacked him on social media all weekend him with a video comparing the governor’s billionaire lifestyle with that of an ordinary farmer.
As lawmakers return to Springfield Wednesday — a move pushed hard by House and Senate Republicans as the legislature’s spring session was canceled since mid-March — GOP leaders are calling for hearings on Pritzker’s executive power after conservative House members have filed lawsuits against the governor and his stay-at-home orders.
Border fears of a surge
State Rep. Joyce Mason (D-Gurnee), whose House district is on the Wisconsin border, said she was worried that her boating constituents would flee to Wisconsin and abandon Winthrop Harbor, the largest marina on the Great Lakes and located on the Illinois side of the border. She lobbied Pritzker’s office and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) in anticipation of boat owners docking their watercraft over the border if rules for boating weren’t clarified last month.
“All the boaters and charter fishermen said, ‘If you don’t let me put my boat in the water, I’m going to go to Kenosha and I might love it there,’” Mason said.
Eventually DNR issued new rules for socially distanced boating and fishing and allowed boat owners to dock their boats in Illinois waters beginning May 1. But with Wisconsin’s sudden reopening, Mason said there’s a new threat.
“I’m worried people are going to pull their boat into a bar [in Wisconsin],” Mason said. “I totally get the desire to [go to bars or salons] but I’m so scared — especially for our seniors and African American community. People are coming back and living in close quarters. I’m very scared there’s going to be a surge.”
State Rep. Marcus Evans (D-Chicago), whose district extends south to cover several miles of Indiana’s border, shares the concern
“What if there’s outbreaks of COVID a few months from now?” Evans said. “It’s a life or death situation for some people. And some are not taken this seriously enough.”
River towns at risk
Some 300 miles southwest, State Sen Jil Tracy (R-Quincy) voiced the same concern about Illinois money being spent across the Iowa and Missouri borders of her district. Her region is seeing its Covid-19 metrics improving, she said, and her district has the hospital capacity to handle the virus if businesses open up with protective measures like social distancing and masks.
Tracy pointed to the West Quincy, Missouri, which only exists because of “Quincians going across the bridge to get gas, beer and cigarettes,” she said.
That mentality, which existed long before the Covid-19 crisis and accompanying economic shutdown in Illinois, could be exacerbated by Illinois’ extended stay-at-home order.
“They’re enjoying this freedom of going out to eat and having some kind of a social life,” Tracy said of her constituents. “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re going for religious services…People may find a [stylist] they like better over in Iowa they like better, maybe they’ll find a new dentist.”
Kentucky has not yet fully reopened, but it’s on its way to doing so, and State Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis), whose district in deep southern Illinois borders Kentucky and small parts of Missouri and Indiana, said the hope given to Kentuckians for a reopening has his constituents on edge.
“Come August, [Kentucky’s] schools will reopen,” Windhorst said. “There’s a bit of a question about whether we’ll have in-person instruction in the fall [in Illinois].”
Windhorst said he and his constituents feel like southern Illinois has been ignored by the governor’s office, especially given his native Massac County has only recorded six Covid-19 cases — five of which he claimed were recovered.
“There’s a high level of tension in southern Illinois — a feeling that we’re forgotten by the rest of this state,” Windhorst said. “That sentiment was there before coronavirus and has only gotten worse.”