Out with the old, in with the new

As we prepare to close out 2008, we pause to remember the good, the bad and the ugly of the year just past ­– and to anticipate the year ahead.

For a few, 2008 was a banner year. Others, however, can’t wait to tear off the last month of the calendar and put the year behind them. For most, it was a mixed bag.

National Politics

Barack Obama wins. Regardless of your politics, having a president that hails from our state is a good thing. So far, he has made some interesting cabinet appointments, and we look forward to seeing if Obama can reach across the aisle to mobilize both parties to address the significant challenges facing our nation. Given the shape of our economy, however, he must temper his penchant for expanding social programs as the answer to all our problems. We simply can’t afford them.

State Politics

Blagogate. News about Gov. Rod Blagojevich has dominated state politics in 2008. And most of it has been negative. His longstanding feud with Michael Madigan and others – both in and out of his party – has resulted in legislative gridlock. No meaningful progress has been made on key issues, and we still have no capital bill.

As the year ended, widespread corruption by the governor surfaced through an investigation by federal law enforcement officials. This week, the impeachment machinery is beginning to turn. Undaunted, Blagojevich seems determined to fight the charges, regardless of the odds and regardless of the negative impact on the state.

After suffering a mild stroke this fall, state Sen. Frank Watson’s positive influence on state politics has been diminished. He’s stepped down from his position as Senate minority leader, but retains his senate seat. Nevertheless, he remains a powerful voice for downstate issues.

The Economy

Downturn and crash. This was the year that Wall Street crashed and burned – leading to bailouts of financial institutions, auto makers and who knows who else.

Locally, we’ve seen some challenges – particularly the planned departure of the Orgill distribution center in late 2009 – but there are plenty of reasons for hope. Small businesses are opening, and the city is actively recruiting new companies to locate here.

Though the Vandalia economy is tied closely to the fortunes of our farmers, we also have a number of small businesses that are vital to the health of the community. The efforts of the Vandalia Chamber of Commerce and Vandalia Main Street are key to our future viability.

The other driver in our economic picture is tourism. Gov. Blagojevich tried to shut down the Vandalia Statehouse, as well as a number of other historic sites and parks. Yet, thanks to the generosity of an anonymous local donor, we soon will have the doors open again. The donor pledged to underwrite a second position on the Statehouse staff for the first six months of 2009, or until the state followed through on its responsibility to keep the facility open.

As we prepare to observe the 200th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday in February, we must do whatever possible to make sure that Vandalia takes its rightful place among the state’s must-see sites.

Agriculture

Roller coaster. Unrelenting spring rains put farmers well behind schedule for planting. As a result, grain prices went through the ceiling, with corn prices hitting historical highs. Then, with a growing season that outfoxed even the experts, we saw widespread near-record yields. It was a year that no one could’ve predicted.

Though most farmers enjoyed a decent year in 2008, high input costs and significantly lower prices for crops indicate a challenging year ahead in agriculture.

Conclusions

No question, we’re in for some tough sledding. The economic conditions – both locally and nationally – will probably get worse before they get better. Yet we must maintain our optimism. We must continue to work to keep our community and our county moving forward.

In times like these, it is easy to be discouraged by the negative news that bombards us. Yet, it is our response to that bad news that ultimately determines our fate.

In Vandalia, many groups and individuals are doing great things to keep our community moving forward. If we can work together and support our local businesses, we can weather this storm.

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