Mostly Good and Competent Men

By Sorensen, Mark W. | Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, Autumn 1999 | Go to article overview

Mostly Good and Competent Men


Sorensen, Mark W., Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society


Mostly Good and Competent Men. By Robert P. Howard. 2nd edition, revised and updated by Peggy Boyer Long and Mike Lawrence, (Springfield: The Institute for Public Affairs, University of Illinois at Springfield, 1999. Pp. xii, 422. $19.95).

This revised edition of newsman Robert P. Howard's 1988 work is a mostly good and competent book. For the most part, government reporters Lawrence, Long and Ed Wojcicki have improved the former Mostly Good and Competent Men: Illinois Governors 18181988. This edition completes and reevaluates the tenure of James Robert Thompson and introduces us to Illinois' 38th and 39th governors, Jim (ng James R.) Edgar and George Homer Ryan.

Both the late author and the current editors agree that the book is concerned with the governors and not with the governorship. This edition contends that by studying the governors, we "can draw inferences about the evolving nature of political power and leadership (p. xi). Yet the additions to the book focus more on an explanation of events than on an analysis of the motivations of the people involved. Mike Lawrence's excellent and succinct essay explains the changes in the nature of the governorship over the past thirty years. He opines that "the foremost challenge of a modern governor... is not having an agenda, but discovering the means by which it can get implemented" (p. 355). As a means to this end, according to Lawrence, a former Edgar staffer, "A governor must appoint the best and brightest to his staff and cabinet." (p. 360) That being said, the authors (who tend to lament the loss of patronage) usually only mention the governor's subordinates in relation to their criminal indictments.

The new edition is structured in the same manner as the first. A new Preface and reworked Introduction precede the text. Following the thirty-nine biographies (all white males) and Lawrence's essay are: a list of the governors and their terms; the vote totals for all gubernatorial elections; an explanation of how Illinois' four constitutions affected the power of the governor; a Bibliography and an Index. Changes that make the publication better for quick reference include starting each biography with a timeline of that governor's life and adding topical headings over the sections of each biography. …

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