There is growing public clamor in some portions of the state for Illinois to divorce itself from Chicago.

Two large state separation movements are calling for Chicago to be ousted from the 21ststate to become its own. Illinois Separation and New Illinois are the largest two of several state separation movements that have sprung up across the state, though not all of the movements share common goals.

Illinois Separation and New Illinois, though, do share a common goal: to separate Cook County from the rest of Illinois.

But why are such organizations willing to part ways with Chicago?

In an interview with The Navigator, Collin Cliburn, the chairman of Support Illinois Separation, stated that he believes political figures based in the state’s largest city have violated the U.S. Constitution, citing what he feels is disproportionate representation within the General Assembly.

“We believe that Chicago politicians are ignoring the Constitution and our laws. They feel like they’re above the law, for the most part. There’s so many of them in that tiny little corner up there that they can outweigh anything that we would like to put through.”

New Illinois’ Chairman of the Board, G.H. Merritt, agreed that Cook County’s opinion outweighs that of the rest of the state in the eyes of the Illinois political structure.

“This has to do with representative government. Cook County has 40 percent of the population and the other 101 counties have 60 percent of the population. And yet, Cook County so dominates the state government, often passing things that are one-size-fits-all.”

Due to this perceived imbalance in representation, these two groups are seeking to oust Cook County from the state, but through different means.

Cliburn and Illinois Separation have a goal of following in the footsteps of successful seceder West Virginia. But starting out, they’re petitioning for a referendum.

“We’re looking to follow the ‘West Virginia path.’ We’re petitioning for a referendum to ask the people what they want. This is a non-binding opinion, but in order to voice the opinion of the majority, I find it necessary that we go through those steps first.”

This referendum has involved county-by-county petitioning to place a question of whether each county would be in favor of removing the City of Chicago from the state itself, with Edwards County being the first within the movement to secure enough signatures to place the question on the ballot.

Constitutionally, there is a particular path to follow in order to seek new statehood.

Historically, there have been four states which formed as a result of separation from their “parent state.” In 1790, Vermont separated from New York. In 1792, Kentucky separated from Virginia. In 1820, Maine separated from Massachusetts. In 1863, West Virginia separated from Virginia.

To Cliburn, the current governmental structure stands in direct opposition to Article Four, Section Four of the Constitution which “guarantee[s] every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government…” which is why he’s adamantly pursuing separation. 

Per Cliburn’s argument, Cook County’s majority violates the main criteria of a republican government. The criteria he’s focused on is popular rule, meaning political decisions are made by a majority of the citizenry. 

While Cook County does represent a large portion of the population of Illinois, it does not encapsulate the majority of the population. Cook County’s population makes up 40 percent of the population of Illinois. 

Despite only carrying 40 percent of the population, Cliburn asserts that Chicago calls the shots, and Illinois Separation is fed up with it.

 “Vermont actually separated and said, ‘We’re done with this. We want to be our own state.’ That’s my back pocket plan is to just defy. We’re over it. We’re done with it. We can’t take it anymore.” 

This, however, is not the thought process of the New Illinois movement, a distinction that decisively separates New Illinois and Illinois Separation as distinctly different organizations.

Merritt and New Illinois are pursuing the route to statehood purely as laid out by the U.S. Constitution.

“The constitutional process for forming a state is listed in Article Four, Section Three of the Constitution. A referendum isn’t part of that, but a referendum is of value because it allows people an opportunity to tell their lawmakers what they’re thinking and it publicizes the movement.”

New Illinois’ fight for separation was bolstered as Brad Halbrook, Representative of Illinois’ 102nd District, filed a resolution on Feb. 2 within the Statehouse “[urging] the United States Congress to declare the City of Chicago the 51ststate of the United States of America and separate it from the rest of Illinois.”

Merritt agreed stating that this is not a partisan issue.

 “This is not a Republican thing or a Democrat thing. The people of southern, central and northern Illinois simply want representative government.”

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