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Get over it, already

Friday, Feb 8, 2013

* When you’ve got the lowest approval rating of any governor in the country and two prominent members of your own party are openly contemplating a primary challenge and people are lining up around the block in the other party to challenge you in a general election, you can expect stories drenched in hostility like this one from the AP

The idea seems simple enough: Ban Illinois lawmakers from voting or taking action on anything that might benefit them personally, all in the name of honest government.

But the ethics proposal Gov. Pat Quinn outlined in his State of the State speech has sparked questions about whom it targets and whether it’s necessary as the state deals with mountainous financial problems. Some Republicans and political experts also have alleged political motives, suggesting the Chicago Democrat was simply floating the proposal to lay the groundwork for what could become a pet issue in his 2014 re-election bid. […]

Some lawmakers said they were confused by the timing: Illinois traditionally enacts reforms in the wake of scandal, and they expected more details on finances when Quinn has made overhauling pensions his top issue for more than a year. Illinois has a nearly $100 billion pension problem, the worst of any U.S. state.

What a bogus excuse. Financial details will come in the March budget address. This was a State of the State address. The fact that so many people who cover the Statehouse and work there can’t seem to differentiate between the two boggles my mind. This happened last year as well. Enough, already.

* Also, timing? Yeah, there’s an election coming up, but Quinn has been pushing this issue for years and years. From the transcript of his SoS address

But our constant mission to restore integrity to Illinois government cannot end here. We have more work to do.

In 1976, I led a petition drive to ban conflict of interest voting in the General Assembly. 635,158 voters signed this petition – the greatest number of signatures ever gathered on a single petition in Illinois history.

Silence about conflict of interest voting wasn’t our Illinois then, and it’s not our Illinois now. We can do better.

Conflicts of interest are regulated all over: from the Illinois Supreme Court, to right here in the Executive Branch.

And more than 30 states have banned conflict of interest voting.

Illinois should too.

With this reform, we can keep moving towards a state government that always puts the people first, and a government that tackles the tough issues, no matter how hard.

* And then there’s this objection

Some lawmakers pointed out Quinn’s plan might duplicate legislation already being considered.

Democratic state Sen. Dan Kotowski of Park Ridge sponsored a bill calling for more lawmaker disclosure of economic interests. While legislators have done so for decades, the forms they use are outdated, Kotowski argues. He has proposed requiring more information — relationships with lobbyists, for example — and allowing them to be viewed online.

Yes, Kotowski has a decent bill. The governor gets to propose his own stuff, however.

* You have to go way down into the story to find the meat of the problem…

Illinois statute says when taking an official action, like a vote, a lawmaker should “consider the possibility” of eliminating the interest or abstaining from the official action. Unlike federal lawmakers who face strike provisions and can be investigated by bipartisan ethics committee of their peers, the state law guidelines contain no provision for enforcement or penalties.

The legislature’s inspector general, Thomas Homer, calls Illinois’ laws “somewhat farcical.”

He pushed reforms in a 2011 report he issued detailing problems, including relationships with lobbyists. A former lawmaker himself, Homer said his office received two dozen complaints last year, and about half were related to potential conflicts of interest. However, Homer said his hands are tied when it comes to acting on the complaints. Any investigations must be approved by a commission, and he doesn’t have power to punish or take action.

The difference is that congressmen are full-timers who have outside income bans. Illinois is by design a citizens legislature, despite its relative high pay.

* Then there’s this

Quinn’s plan is aimed at limiting votes cast by lawmakers who haven’t been accused of any impropriety — including lawyers, real estate agents and entrepreneurs with business interests in the state.

I seriously doubt that you’ll convince all the lawyers in the General Assembly to list their law firm clients. I’m not even sure that they can. But that’s ultimately where the, um, conflict will be.

* I’m one of the governor’s most intense critics. But I’m sick of the annual whining about how the State of the State address isn’t the budget address.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


18 Comments
  1. - siriusly - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:21 am:

    Dead on Rich, this bellyaching about this week’s speech is lame. Both Quinn and Kotowski are right on this point.

    The amount of disclosure and the conflict of interest provisions for state lawmakers are pathetic and weak. The open meetings act requirements and ethics laws they impose on local government officials are far more strict than what they require of themselves. They should mirror what is required of local government officials.

    It’s not aimed at anyone, I’m not pointing a finger at anyone. But all lawmakers should be required to more accurately disclose any possible financial interest and they should all be required to recuse themselves (or be prohibited) from voting on or working on bills relate to those interests.


  2. - Todd - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:21 am:

    Seems the ethics disscussion has hit the law of unintended consiquences. That new senator harris, will no longer be able to do his speaking engagements for which he is compentated being a former member of the NFL.

    He did this before, being elected and was part of his income and business. Makes no sense and shows the folly of some of these ethics proposals


  3. - Makandadawg - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:26 am:

    How can you make a law like that when everyone is suppose to “Have Skin in the Game”.


  4. - Nohopeforillinois - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:30 am:

    Dumb idea. Under that logic, no legislator could ever vote on any tax reduction - it would benefit them personally. No lawyer could vote on legal issues; no other licenses professional could vote on issues affecting their practices!? Identity of legal clients is often privileged anyway.


  5. - reformer - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:31 am:

    A waiting period before retiring legislators can join the Third House would prevent lame-ducks from negotiating their lobbying gig while still voting on the interest group’s bills.


  6. - JustMe_JMO - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:35 am:

    “Homer said his hands are tied when it comes to acting on the complaints..”

    Why do we even have a Legislative Ethics Commission if they have now power to act?


  7. - anon - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:41 am:

    My thoughts exactly, Rich. Its amazing that the press bites on his critics comments about the speech lacking specific “budget” details. I understand why his critics make these statements — because they consider most people to be too stupid to understand that what they are saying is not a credible critique. But, the media shouldnt let them get away with it. Why not ask Leaders Cross and Radogno to explain why they feel the governor needs to do a budget address during the state of the state. Something to keep the process honest. Sheesh!


  8. - Ray del Camino - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:47 am:

    Conflict-of-interest laws are not hard. Lots of states have them and implement them. Go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website and get a look at some of them. Revolving-door legislation would be good, too. PQ is right on this one.


  9. - 47th Ward - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 10:52 am:

    ===I’m one of the governor’s most intense critics.===

    I’ll quibble with this one Rich. I’d say you’re a persisent critic, or maybe a consistent critic. I just don’t think intense is the right word. Maybe thoughtful critic is better. Quinn has intense critics to be sure, and most of them post here every day.


  10. - walkinfool - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:04 am:

    All of these supposed difficulties with stronger laws on conflict of interest? Come on!

    Of course we should pass them — just like many other states, who seem to do fine with them.

    It sounds like all the supposed difficulties that would come with our proposed marriage equality bill — fables for those afraid to face change.

    Start with Kotowski for transparency, then add some enofrcement to it.


  11. - walkinfool - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:05 am:

    “enforcement”, sorry


  12. - Amalia - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:47 am:

    Kotowski has always been loud in praise for himself.


  13. - John A Logan - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 11:54 am:

    I find it curious that there is criticism of the critics. Just because its the “state of the state” address does not mean Quinn couldn’t or shouldn’t lay out budgetary visions and details.


  14. - Small Town Liberal - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 12:38 pm:

    - does not mean Quinn couldn’t or shouldn’t lay out budgetary visions and details. -

    He did that. The critics are whining that there weren’t enough specific details, which belong in the budget address.


  15. - hum - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 1:57 pm:

    == The open meetings act requirements and ethics laws they impose on local government officials are far more strict than what they require of themselves. They should mirror what is required of local government officials.==

    They are the same.

    ==Go to the National Conference of State Legislatures website and get a look at some of them. Revolving-door legislation would be good, too. PQ is right on this one. ===

    We have a revolving door law this is more strict than most states.

    ==Why do we even have a Legislative Ethics Commission if they have now power to act? ==

    They do have power to act, but they cannot remove a member from only. Only the chamber, or the voters, can do that.


  16. - hum - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 1:58 pm:

    sorry for the typo

    They do have power to act, but they cannot remove a member from OFFICE (not only). Only the chamber, or the voters, can do that.


  17. - dave - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 2:44 pm:

    **We have a revolving door law this is more strict than most states.**

    Not for legislators though…


  18. - Just The Way It Is One - Friday, Feb 8, 13 @ 3:53 pm:

    ===Financial details will come in the March budget address===

    Ain’t THAT the truth! Year IN, year OUT it’s the same. Those criticizing are ONLY looking to sickeningly score political points, as if Pat Quinn is lax/remiss deliberately trying to pull some fast one on us–what a joke!! But let’s face it–we’re only a little over 13 months ’till the next Gubernatorial Primary Elections, and as we all know, the jockeying has already begun…!


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