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49 2. Southern Illinois Power Brokers Illinois political officials and observers often referred to Paul Powell in oral histories as a legislative magician. Discounting the pretense of not wanting to speak ill of a former colleague, there is a measure of truth in the accolades. There was nothing supernatural about his style. Instead, everyonecouldseewhatPowellwasdoing,oratleasttheyhadknowledge of what was to come. He was the master of practical regional politics in a time when party lines were easily bridged, coalitions worked, public disclosure was unheard of, and dominating personalities kept score. Many legislators loafed through the part-time business schedule of one session every two years. Powell and his allies were in motion full-time. Leverage is how Powell assumed the heights of power and remained there for much of his thirty years in the House of Representatives. He knewthenumbers.OftenDemocratswereintheminority,buttheirnumbers remained close enough to a majority for deal making. That is when thesmallnumbersofDemocratsinsouthernIllinoisoccasionallyworked with other downstate colleagues to make a statement against Chicago population growth and political clout. Powell also knew when to fold his cards and play along with the growing behemoth on Lake Michigan. Powellrecognizedthatissuesoftentrumpedpartisanship,althoughhe could always talk a good game at a party gathering. Proof of that strategy was his rank as No. 1 supporter of Southern Illinois University in the legislature. He never spent a day in college, nor apparently did he wish to. 50 Southern Illinois Power Brokers Heknewthepowerfuleconomicenginethattheuniversitycouldbeinhis home territory, and he filled a vacuum of political leadership by bringing Democrats and Republicans to the cause. Powelldemonstratedanuncannysenseoftiming.Twice—in1959and 1961—he was chosen Speaker of the House, essentially with Republican votesandthecomplicityoftheRepublicangovernor,WilliamStratton.By doing so, he temporarily limited the growing strength of Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley. Powell’s motivation was to rule. He lusted for power: to use it and lord it over his enemies. Other issues that bridged partisanship were horse racing, state fairs, economic development, public welfare, and elementary and secondary education.Theirappealbroughttogetherlawmakers,specialinterests,and lobbyists of all stripes. Powell also knew the value of supporting veterans, although he never served a day in the military. For those who did, Powell was among royalty, primarily because veterans were some of his strongestsupportersandtheAmericanLegionmaintainedapowerfulpolitical voice. He could thank his friend John Stelle for a lifelong connection to thatconstituency.Whenthelegislaturetookupbonusesandotheraidfor World War II and Korean War veterans, Powell was a strong supporter. Healsoknewhowandwhentotoothisownhorn,especiallywithnewspaper editors and reporters. One of his strongest newspaper supporters was the Springfield Daily Register, which editorially leaned sharply toward Democrats.HisfriendshipwitheditorV.Y.Dallmanpaidoffwithfrequent applause for Powell’s legislative heroics. The largest newspaper closest to hishomeinVienna,theSouthernIllinoisaninCarbondale,becameafierce editorial opponent. In order to get his story told, Powell wrote op-ed page columnsfornewspaperstoutinghisaccomplishments.1 Mostly,heignored thejibesofliberaleditorialpagessuchasthoseoftheSt.LouisPost-Dispatch, which never found a sliver of evidence that Powell was worthy of being electedtoanyposition.2 HerarelyreceivedaplauditfromChicagopapers, butthenagainhewasnotontheballotthereduringhislegislativeyears.His friendly constituency in Vienna never believed those “outsiders” anyway. In spite of opposition by individual newspaper editorial pages, Powell enjoyed reminding people of his recognition by legislative reporters. In an op-ed article for the Southern Illinoisan recounting his policy achievements , Powell added this touch: “Twice a poll was taken by the newspaper men who cover the General Assembly who honored me twice as an Southern Illinois Power Brokers 51 outstanding Legislator of Illinois, and in 1949 I was made an Honorary Member of their group, the Illinois Legislative Correspondents Association .”3 Periodically, reporters for wire services and metropolitan newspapers followed Powell for a day or a week and wrote about his activities at home and in Springfield, leaving a mostly positive impression. In the far corners of Illinois, especially at the local community level, Powellenjoyedpopularitymoststatewideofficialsonlydreamedof.Why? Powelloncesaid,“Don’teverturndownadrinkorsomethingtoeatwhen you’re campaigning. I don’t care if they hand you a glass of muddy river water, you take a big gulp and tell em how good it is.”4 Paul O’Neal, a friend from Vienna, added another version of the answer: “He promised that if they voted for him, he’d always take care of them. And so long as I knew Paul Powell, he took care of them or anyone else who needed it.”5 Powell’s legislativeachievementsbeganwhenhefirstservedinHouse partyleadershipduringthesessionof1945.Thenextsession,1947,hewas minority leader. In 1949 he was named Speaker. He was chosen minority leader in 1951 and 1953. When the 1955 session was half-finished, Richard J. Daley was elected to his first term as mayor of Chicago. From that point, Powell dealt directly with the mayor’s agenda in addition to his own. The sessions of 1951–57...


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