* 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.