With Paul Simon: The Political Journey of an Illinois Original, author Robert E. Hartley presents the first thorough, objective volume on the journalistic and political career of one of Illinois’s most respected public figures. Hartley’s detailed account offers a fully rounded portrait of a man whose ideals and tenacity not only spurred reform on both state and national levels during his celebrated forty-year career but also established the lasting legacy of a political legend.
Simon first became a public figure at the age of nineteen, when he assumed the post of editor and publisher of a weekly newspaper in Troy, Illinois. From there, he used his paper to launch a fierce crusade against the crime and corruption plaguing Madison County. This battle sparked his entry into politics, helping to land him a seat in the state legislature in 1954. While serving, he campaigned tirelessly according to his principles, earning him the mass voter approval that would usher him into the seat of lieutenant governor in 1968—the first person elected to that position who did not share party affiliation with the governor.
As lieutenant governor, Simon initiated many changes to the position, remaking it to better serve the citizens of the state of Illinois. The cornerstone of his reform plan was an ombudsman program designed to allow the people of the state to voice problems they had with government and state agencies. The program, extremely popular with the public and the press, solved problems and helped to make Simon a household name throughout Illinois. Although he faced challenges along the way, including racial upheaval in Cairo and the student and police riots on the Carbondale campus of Southern Illinois University, Simon’s outspoken honesty and strong support of his constituents earned him the utmost esteem and popularity.
While his 1972 bid for governor of Illinois ultimately failed, this did not deter Simon from his dedication to social progress. In 1974 he began his remarkable twenty-two-year career in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate, where he earned the admiration of the country for his political integrity. Despite the praise and support Simon had earned during his time in Washington, he was unable to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1988 and returned to the Senate, winning a second term in 1990. Simon committed time and energy to the myriad issues of interest to him, especially in the field of education, with one of his biggest successes coming with the passage of the National Literacy Act, which he sponsored. He continued to foster his ties to journalism throughout his lengthy political career, authoring numerous books, articles, and columns, all of which he used to relentlessly promote open government and social programs.
This vivid account of the public life of Paul Simon reveals a man whose personal honor and dedication were unshakeable throughout nearly half a century in the political arena. Robert E. Hartley provides a candid perspective on Simon’s accomplishments and victories, as well as his mistakes and losses, revealing new insights into the life of this dynamic and widely respected public figure.