Business leaders: Can learn from Walker


SPRINGFIELD -- Even if Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is controversial, Illinois could learn something from him, according to some of the people who watched his speech to a business group in Springfield Tuesday.

“It’s an inspiring discussion because he really turned the state around,” said state Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who was the unsuccessful Republican nominee for Illinois governor in 2010.

“I think his message is enlightening, that the people who were afraid of the changes in Wisconsin have learned that those changes have made them better, and that’s the kind of message we need here.”

Brady predicted Walker would defeat a recall effort and stay in office.

Walker spoke at the President Abraham Lincoln Hotel on the Employer Action Day program of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and National Federation of Independent Business. Protesters, mainly affiliated with unions, demonstrated outside the building.

Freedom of speech

Zach Hoffman, president of Wiley Office Furniture in Springfield, said that, while “this sounds corny,” he thinks both Walker’s speech and the protest outside were important evidence of the need for freedom of speech.

“He’s a very good speaker,” Hoffman said. “Every state is different, but I think he raises a lot of good points. … If this inspires some heated feelings, well, maybe that will generate some ideas. It’s better than apathy.”

“The starkest contrast I took from Governor Walker to Governor Quinn was action,” said state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. “Pat Quinn’s been the governor of Illinois more than three years, and we are still dragging our heels on pension reform, Medicaid cuts. And Scott Walker said it well when he said that the longer you wait, the deeper the hole.”

“I thoroughly enjoyed it,” said Doug Knight, owner of Knight’s Action Park in Springfield. “I have thought for a long time that our government has pretty much become self-serving and they need to start working for the people.

“When you put people out of business, there’s no more jobs,” Knight said. “That’s who creates jobs — business, not government.”

Against government unions

Scott Rapoport of Des Plaines, chief executive officer of STR Wireless Management, is on the government relations committee of the Barrington Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I think he has done wonderful things for the state of Wisconsin,” Rapoport said of Walker. “If we were able to replicate a lot of those things here in Illinois, it would create a much more business-friendly environment.”

Rapoport added that, except for public-safety workers, he thinks public-sector unions should be phased out. Their benefits, such as pensions, are “bankrupting the state,” Rapoport said.

“There’s two sides to everything,” said Shirlanne Lemm of Itasca, president and CEO of the GOA Regional Business Association near O’Hare Airport. “We just have to take the best of what we hear, and hopefully apply it in some way. We have to do something in this state.”

Bernard Schoenburg can be reached at (217) 788-1540. Follow him via