Terry Bibo: Saving Abe with Lincolns

Terry Bibo

Attention Illinois taxpayers.

Don C. White would like a penny for your thoughts . . . especially if they are irritated, aggravated or downright angry thoughts about the budget mess in Springfield.

He calls his plan "Lincolns for Lincoln." And he hopes that if enough angry Illinoisans dump their change on state officials, those officials will change the way they're dumping on state historic sites.

"I think something has to be done," White says.

A former Peorian who lives in Palos Hills near Chicago, the 70-year-old history buff has been writing a day-by-day perpetual calendar of the Civil War. He was hip-deep in the subject, aiming to self-publish his book in October, when he heard about budget cuts that hit pretty close to home.

The Illinois Historic Preservation Agency now has a $2.8 million hole. While Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the state Legislature dither around, the agency has to cut costs. On Aug. 4, 80 seasonal workers were "relieved" of their duties. Hours were reduced at six Springfield-area historic sites. That includes Lincoln's New Salem near Petersburg, the Old State Capitol, the Lincoln-Herndon Law Offices and the Lincoln Tomb.

White was appalled. Not only is this the Land of Lincoln, but plans are well under way to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the 16th president's birth next February. There is an Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission. C-SPAN is promoting a monthly series called "Lincoln: 200 Years."

People from around the world are planning to come to Springfield to commemorate the occasion, White says, citing one group from Japan with plans to film in the Illinois capital. He fears some of these people will find locked doors instead of open arms.

"The timing, like I say, is awful," he notes.

And it may get worse.

Historic Preservation Agency spokesman David Blanchette says more cuts are coming, and soon. There aren't enough funds to run those facilities.

"I can only say having our budget cut in half is going to have a significant impact on every site," Blanchette says. "But the specific impacts have yet to be determined."

White says the Lincoln sites may not be the state's top priority. But they are a symbol of the way things are unravelling.

"Governor Goofy, Dumbo and Donald Duck," White says of our illustrious leaders. You can almost hear him shake his head. "All from one party and they can't get things done."

So if the state is going to be run like a joke, he's got one back. He's not really kidding either. White's saving up his pennies - those little copper Lincolns - to dump on the desk of his state legislator in Palos Hills. He figures $10 or $15 worth would make some nice noise.

"It could be $5 bills," he says. "I'm sure they'd take those, too."

He's hoping other people around the state will do the same. I suggest one penny in a well-thought-out letter to the governor or the heads of the Illinois House and Senate might strike closer to the heart of the problem. White is open.

"Anywhere it can do some good," he says. "I haven't really got it rolling yet."

So save your pennies. Send them to Springfield, where statesmen are in short supply. Maybe they will be a good reminder. It takes trying times to produce an Abraham Lincoln.

"He's been my hero," White says. "He's about the only one left now."

Terry Bibo can be reached attbibo@pjstar.com or (309) 686-3189.