* My weekly syndicated newspaper column (over a hundred papers) takes yet another look at the upcoming constitutional convention vote…
The polling results I’ve seen from both sides of the debate say more of you will vote for a state constitutional convention this November than won’t.
The numbers still aren’t there yet. The question on the fall ballot must either be supported by 60 percent or by at least half of all those voting in the election itself. Still, it’s getting there.
I’m one of those who supports a constitutional convention. And after 18 years of covering Illinois politics, I am not only convinced a convention is necessary, I also believe I have a duty to tell you why.
Last week, I explained to you how our state constitution has allowed legislative leaders and the governor to seize infinitely more power than the constitution’s framers ever dreamt, and how that power grab is destroying our system of government.
This week, I’d like to toss around a few ideas that a convention might address to break at least some of that stranglehold.
Before I do, always keep in mind that once a convention is called, you have the right to elect all the delegates. When those delegates finish their task, you have the right to vote up or down on all proposed changes. Voters have the final word on everything.
One of the biggest Statehouse problems is that legislative leaders can serve as long as they can get themselves re-elected. I started to notice many moons ago that with every new session I covered, I gained a bit more respect and influence. That happens for pretty much everyone who sticks around. And it’s even more true for leaders, like the House speaker and Senate president, because they have so much institutional power to begin with.
Limiting a leader to 10 years of controlling the gavel would allow the Statehouse a fresh start on a regular basis.
But there is still the almost incomprehensible institutional power that the leaders already own. A new face every decade won’t change that fact.
One of the most refreshing reform suggestions I’ve heard is to require nonpartisan, computerized legislative redistricting.
Our legislative district maps look like they were drawn by crazy people. They’re all over the place, weaving this way and that for miles on end.
In reality, they are carefully constructed by the powers that be every 10 years to protect their favored incumbents.
Voters don’t choose their politicians, politicians actually choose their voters. As a result, only a small handful of incumbents ever have to face a serious opponent, all courtesy of their leaders who carefully draw the district maps.
Iowa’s legislative districts look more like squares. Iowa requires the use of a computer program that completely disregards party and power favoritism. Illinois has far more minority voters than Iowa, which would require more complicated district outlines to make sure a federal judge doesn’t kill it off, but this can be done here. The result? Lots more competition and far less reliance on all-powerful leaders.
Our campaign finance laws allow unlimited contributions by legislative leaders to their favored candidates. The leaders control most of the money raised in this state, so there’s no way those laws will ever change because the leaders also completely control the lawmaking process. A constitutional convention could curtail that fundraising power or eliminate it altogether.
Leaders appoint all committee chairmen, all members of those committees and all bills sent to those committees. This ensures that the chairmen and members always do their leaders’ bidding. Stop that, and you take away a huge amount of power.
Some people favor recall and term limits for all legislators. I’m an agnostic on recall and I’m pretty sure that term limits for legislators in general (not leaders, just legislators) would be a bad idea, but that can all be up for debate if there is a constitutional convention. Others want to give citizens a right to pass laws on their own through ballot initiatives. That could be chaotic, but certainly interesting.
Nothing is guaranteed in life, of course. None of these reforms may come to pass even with a constitutional convention. But none of it will ever happen without one. So, once again, please vote “Yes” this November.
Next week, we’ll take a look at what can be done to rein in the governor’s excessive powers.
* Eric Zorn has another angle today…
As you may know, there will be a referendum question on the November ballot asking if we should hold a convention to overhaul the Illinois Constitution of 1970.
And as you may also know, most of those who are in power and doing fine under the current system are opposed to the idea. Soon, you’ll be subject to a well-funded campaign representing the entire political spectrum telling you what a risky and expensive proposition a so-called con-con would be.
But what you may not know is that even the ballot question itself seems to be part of that campaign. […]
And you may conclude, as I do, that it has only one purpose:
To marginalize the very idea of a con-con by reminding voters how unpopular it was 20 years ago.
*** UPDATE *** A friendly member of the special interest opposition noted that I missed a couple of stories out of Peoria today…
Representatives with the Peoria Area Chamber of Commerce, the League of Women Voters of Greater Peoria, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Labor Council of West Central Illinois gathered Monday at Peoria City Hall to voice their disapproval with a referendum they claim will only exacerbate problems in the state.
“We believe it’s inappropriate, unpredictable and expensive,” League President Mary Jane Crowell said.
Two of those very same attributes would apply to our current system.
* And here’s the other one…
“The special interest, current political dysfunction in Springfield and party politics may gain control of the delegate election selection process as well as deliberations. So results may be unrepresentative of voters concerns,” said Mary Jane Crowell with the Greater Peoria League of Women Voters.
So, we already know that those three things have a rock-solid grip on our current process, yet the League is currently in, um, league with those very same special interests and masters of political dysfunction and party politics to oppose the con-con. Slightly hypocritical? Surely not! It’s the Leauge of Women Voters, for crying out loud. They are above such associations, except, you know, when they’re not.
*** UPDATE 2 *** Houlihan throws in with the proponents…
Cook County Assessor James Houlihan says he’s decided to urge voters to back a Nov. 4 ballot measure that would, if passed, require the state to convene a constitutional convention, or “con-con.”
Mr. Houlihan says he’s also decided to “bring some money to the table” on behalf of the so-far underfunded pro con-con side. The Cook County Democrat won’t say how much, but it could be substantial, since his political fund had $782,000 in the bank as of June 30, according to a disclosure report filed with the state Board of Elections.
And there are some money problems for the anti’s…
Business groups had pledged to raise $3 million to $5 million to oppose con-con, but amid a sour economy, that effort is lagging, according to a source close to the matter.
I’ve been hearing the same thing for weeks. Organized labor is apparently carrying most of the ball on this one, at least for now.