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Fighting the powers that be *** UPDATED x2 ***

Tuesday, Sep 30, 2008

* 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.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:17 am:

    The best way to loosen the reins of power is to elect legislators with the grapes to stand up to the leaders and repeal the Pate Philip rules that both chambers operate under. That would be much more efficient and would cost nothing.
    No concon needed.

  2. - Lefty Lefty - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:22 am:

    My senator Chris Lauzen has grapes. Big grapes. And he has been reduced to sending me letters and emails railing against the “current Downtown Chicago Democrat leadership…jerk(ing) the rest of us around.” That sounds like an actual machine-fighting representative wanting the convention, although I don’t know his official stance.

    My question, though, is about cost. Will it really cost $80 million to have the CC? Your paid advertisements say so, RM, and those are all true, right? They’re on the Internet so they must be true.

  3. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:23 am:

    I think, Bill, you need to explain how those legislators can be elected when the process and the money are controlled by the leaders. Also, please tell us how groups like perhaps those that you might or might not be affiliated with can be prevented from their usual upholding of the status quo with their biennial endorsements. :)

  4. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:24 am:

    LL, you as a voter have to make the decision between spending tax money to reform the process or allowing a broken process to continue spending tax money.

  5. - BandCamp - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:26 am:

    From Zorn:

    ===If the ballot proposition didn’t include the 1988 election results, it would have left unanswered “the question of what happened the last time it was presented to voters,” said Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park), another committee member who said he hasn’t staked out a position on con-con.===

    Lame. Yeah, voters might wonder what happened last time, but it isn’t germane to the ultimate question being out forth. And quite honestly, any dope knows the political environment/culture since 1988 has changed, so why even include that language?

    The fact the language made it on the ballot question is proof positive for a con-con.

  6. - Skeeter - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:36 am:

    With regard to your 10 year rule — doesn’t that leave an opening for a Putin-type? Big deal. Madigan steps down. In his place, he puts somebody who will follow his orders. Where is the reform?

    Also, why would we believe that the same leaders who now are in control would not also control a convention?

    In the end, I’m having a difficult time believing that (as the paid ad on this site states) it is worth all that money.

  7. - Snidely Whiplash - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:38 am:

    ===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.===

    Why would that be “required?” My God, we have a black man from Chicago as the Democratic presidential nominee (thanks to white votes as well as black), yet they want random districts to ensure “fairness,” but only as long as it’s MORE “fair” to minorities than to anyone else.

    I’m all for random redistricting, but not semi-random redistricting which would give one voting block an unfair leg up over all otheres. Not that you’ll hear Democrats screaming about it, because minorities by and large vote Democratic.

    The biggest problem this state government has is the lack of a true two-party system. If you are going to redraw a map in such a way as to ensure a multitude of Democratic districts, then bipartisan participation should also be provided for. And I really don’t see that as a solution, either, because it would discriminate against white Democrats.

    Fair is fair. Do it the right way, or don’t do it at all.

  8. - Six Degrees of Separation - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:45 am:


    One answer to your dilemma would be to go back to 3-member legislative districts with cumulative voting, where voters could weight all 3 of their votes to the district underdog. Nearly all legislative districts had 2-party representation back in the day. Who knows, we might even get a Green or Libertarian representative.

  9. - Cal Skinner - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:46 am:

    Term limits for legislative leaders.

    Where have I heard that before?

    Oh, I know, I espoused the idea when I ran for governor as a Libertarian in 2002.

    Well, infusing new ideas into the body politic is the primary role of third parties, isn’t it?

  10. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:50 am:

    Why not include the vote from 1968 as well?

    $80 million for a con-con as opposed to how much if we do not have one?

    Unions say they are worried about what will happen to the pensions? What is happening to them now? How many folks in the pension system feel like the plans will be around and full when they retire? It may be legally required, but if there is no money cuts WILL be made. Silly laws have never stopped them before.

    The opposition to con-con is a coalition of groups worried they might lose a lot power. And they have resorted to scare tactics to keep it from happening. Maybe Jesse went too far.

    If it does not pass, I see a lawsuit on the horizon based on the language Sec. White has created. So, we might see the question again (with cleaner language) in 2010 or 2012.

  11. - BandCamp - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:54 am:

    I believe there was no vote for a con-con before 1988. But don’t quote me on that…

  12. - soccermom - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:56 am:

    I love the idea of putting the “last time, here were the results” on the ballot question to give voters needed information. But why stop there? From now on, let’s put the results of the last election after every name on the ballot. (”In 2006, Governor Blagojevich won re-election 49.8-39.3 — take THAT, Randy Stufflebeam!”)

    Seriously, Rich, a great column. And it takes some grapes to come out swinging against your advertisers. Well done.

  13. - Lefty Lefty - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:56 am:

    The reason I asked about the cost is because it is an issue for people who otherwise would support the issue. I told the woman I was discussing this with (who brought up the $80 million price tag) that I was willing to spend $1 billion on it in order to change this mess. Her eyes almost shot out of her head, but I made my point. I was wondering if it is an accurate number or not if opthers bring it up in conversation.

  14. - Fan of the Game - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:57 am:

    The people I speak with who are opposed to a con-con cite two reasons: 1) the cost and 2) fear for their pensions.

    The opposition has successfully propagandized the issue, and many people–even if they believe our current system is corrupt and unworkable–will stick with the status quo. They see too much uncertainty when it comes to the issue they care about most–their pocketbooks. If the con-con is to be held, the proponents will need to make their case on these two issues.

  15. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:03 am:

    Well, ok, since you asked. All citizens have the right, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution(which,by the way ,can not be fiddled with by reactionary fringe groups looking to push their out of the mainstream agendas through a referendum for a silly boondoggle like a concon) to freedom of speech. They can express their dissatisfaction, if any, by opposing incumbent legislators through many ways, including finacially supporting their opponents, organizing other like minded individuals to voluntarily contribute time, effort,and money to elect non-incumbents who may be sympathetic to their particular common causes, run for office themselves and get their message out through various means; websites, blogs, radio and cable tv, etc..More simply, they could communicate with their legislators about their perceived need to change the rules.
    It could be that groups that I may or may not be affiliated with derive their strength from real people who go to work every day,who are struggling to support their families, who are the ones hurt the most by the current infighting in Springfield and Washington, truly believe that the candidates(which include non-incumbents, by the way) that they endorse are good, honest people who have their best interests at heart. They trust them to do what’s right. Sometimes they, like everybody, make mistakes but most of the time they are proven accurate.
    They would not want to risk their rights that they have fought for and finally won through battle after battle…a woman’s right to choose, the right to a public education, the right to a secure retirement, and many others because of some strange times in Springfield.
    The Illinois Constitution is a great document that is admired and emulated by many states. There is nothing wrong with it. It is not broke. Don’t fix it.
    If you don’t like the leaders or their rules vote them out. Don’t tread on the Constitution.
    By the way, as long as we are being a little personal and at the risk of a “bite me”, now that you have moved from merely slanted commentary to outright advocacy in your columns, don’t you feel a little like Bo Jackson wearing an New Balance jacket?

  16. - BandCamp - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:04 am:

    I want to back-up FOTG. My father is a former state employee and has grave concerns about his pension being raided. It’s understood that each proposed change must be put to the voters, but state-employee haters far outweigh the number of current state retirees.

    My father’s concerns are valid.

    follow-up - (The call for con-con was written into the XIV Article of the 1970 Constitution.)

  17. - Irish - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:09 am:

    I have been on the fence about the Con-con listening to points both sides are raising but I have to confess I am now in the pro con-con camp. The reason I landed here is really quite simple. I think that if more voters cut away all the rhetoric and got down to basics they would find themselves in the pro con-con camp also. The thought process that turned the light on for me was revolutionary yet simplistic. What are the things that voters complain about the most? What cliche’s do we hear time and time again?
    ” I wish there was a way to get some of these people out of office. Once they are elected they are there for good no matter what their job performance.” “How do so few get so much power?” “Why do the majority of the legislators I choose sit on their hands and everything is negotiated by three of four people and then everyone else rubber stamps it?” “How did the Governor get so much power? Where are the checks and balances?” etc. How do we fix this? What is the realistic best chance we have for making some of these changes. A Con-con.
    The problem is that the anti Con-con camp is using fear tactics to scare voters away and they are much better organized than the pro camp. (that alone should tell you something) I am a State Employee and the fear that a major change would come to our pension plan has kept me on the fence until now. Our union, the AFT/IFT, is asking all members to vote aginst the Con-con saying that we will lose if there is a con-con. However I broke with them on the last election when they endorsed our current Governor in spite of his antics the previous four years.
    Please think for yourselves and vote for reality, do not allow your vote to be controlled by fear of what might happen. Do we want 10 more yeas of what we have now? Is there anything that would lead you to believe these folks are going to change this on their own?

  18. - Levois - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:12 am:

    I can’t wait for this next one. I’m willing to bet I’ll see an argument to take away the governor’s power of the AV.

  19. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:13 am:

    Do you believe in self-government?

    Then you will support the same principles every generation since Jacksonian democracy believed, and recognize the mass successes this country has had empowering citizens to run government. You would support a constitutional convention, wouldn’t you, because you believe that there is more intelligence and wisdom in millions of everyday people than there are in a small group of self-annointed elites.

    Face it, we have been misled for almost a century to believe that we could create a centralized country guided by enlightened intelligencia who have hearts of gold, fairly redispensing profits harvested by greedy businesses. This is a dream, at best. It has never worked, and will not work.

    But if you believe in this clap-trap, you probably also believe that we can just “tweak” our current constitution so that those wonderful people can accomplish that wonderful dream. The citizen-action they wish to see isn’t citizens taking the reigns of their government, it is citizens demanding more mother’s milk from government; more dependant on that enlightened group of professors and lawyers who tell the masses what to do and what to pay out of their wages.

    I believe that the average person is wiser and understands real life more than the average tenured faculty member in universities. I believe that life is a richer and a better tutor than being encased within ivy-covered walls. I am a populist because I know history and it shows that when we empower citizens, we get better government.

    Vote “yes!” for a Constitutional Convention!

  20. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:14 am:

    ===Why would that be “required?”===

    Legal precendence.

  21. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:15 am:

    Skeeter, it’s possible to come up with any scheme you want in your own mind.

    My suggestion is that you open your mind.

  22. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:20 am:

    That’s right, Irish. Don’t take the advice of the people you pay to represent you. Instead,vote your own way based on what you read on the Capitol Fax blog. That’ll show them.
    10 more years of what we have now might not look so bad 10 years from now, especially if this thing passes. Fear? Yep and justifiably so.
    But that’s ok.
    You can always just blame your union.

  23. - scoot - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:20 am:

    Voters don’t choose their politicians, politicians actually choose their voters.

    Thats a good line…and also very true.

  24. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:23 am:

    ==All citizens have the right, guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution(which,by the way ,can not be fiddled with by reactionary fringe groups looking to push their out of the mainstream agendas through a referendum for a silly boondoggle like a concon) to freedom of speech.==

    You have it completely backward, sir!

    The US Constitution is a reign on government as set by the citizens of the United States! We were here first. The US Constitution does not “give us rights”, we gave governments rights over us. We have the right to change the damn thing when we want! WE RULE!

    The “reactionary fringe groups” you claim are trying to push “mainstream agendas” are your fellow citizens doing their civic duty! Since when is a mainstream agenda a fringe? It is the responsibility of each of us to take a stand when a class of self-annointed rulers use our government as their playtoy!

    Maybe you believe you are a voiceless guinea pig who has to boot lick someone elected to government, but we dumped that idea of yours when we dumped the tea into Boston harbor!

    Find you grapes, sir - and stop being a door mat!

  25. - Juice - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:32 am:

    The Legislative research unit conducted a study and found that a Con-Con would likely cost only between 14-23 million dollars, not the $80 million the opponents have tossed around. (Even if it were the $80 million, that would still amount to a little under $8 per person in Illinois. With the mess we’ve got, I’d say that price tag is still worth it.)

  26. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:32 am:

    Now, Vanman, there you go again. Read it again. I referred to out of the mainstream groups and the King of England was hardly “someone elected to government”.
    I know better than to take your rhetoric seriously and I realize that even you don’t believe the stuff you write. I just wish I could figure out how to boldface in my posts. Sometimes you make me feel like John McCain technologically.

  27. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:34 am:

    ===I realize that even you don’t believe the stuff you write===

    Written without a trace of irony?

  28. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:36 am:

    In an ideal world Bill would be right. But the fact is that a large percentage of the population, those in their working years, who are struggling to raise a family, make a living, get more education and so on, don’t have time to become involved in the tedious process of finding and developing an opposition candidate, doing detailed research on political issues, and so on. Sad, but true. Add to that the huge advantages of incumbency and changing the system becomes a quixotic task. Just citizens have done it but many of them had to put in thousands of hours–hours most of us need to earn a living. And once those incumbent legislators get a little seniority, well, they’re not working for us–they are working for the lobbyists and their paymasters including, let me add, not just business interests but union interests as well. Filling their pockets with “campaign contributions” becomes their priority.
    Regular citizens take the leavings. Getting to play with $50 plus billion dollars per annum appears to corrupt them all.

    At least the con con would sharpen the focus and allow citizens to weigh in productively on critical issues…without spending their lives beating on the political establishment.

    This is not to say that most of us couldn’t be doing more than we are to end dysfunctional, corrupt government in Illinois. Write a letter.
    Comment on blogs and newspaper comment sections.
    Send a contribution, however small, to a promising new candidate. And so on. Go to a political forum, even if you can’t stay for the whole thing. Talk to friends. Support the con con.

  29. - ZC - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:38 am:

    I think it’s extremely unlikely that a con-con would result in a raid on people’s pensions. This has to go before the voters. No way elected officials would commit political hari-kiri.

    I do think that the pension provision in the Constitution should be modified. We need to prevent outrageous raids on the taxpayers like the sweetheart steal Carol Ronen got: eight weeks of work, for a $38,000 per year boost. Or the last-minute salary spikes that school superintendents pay themselves, artificially boosting their lifetime pensions and shifting to Illinois millions of dollars in retirement fund costs.

    There are a lot of greedy people feeding off that pension provision in the Illinois Constitution, and I’m getting tired of only hearing about the honest folks who are legitimately worried about theirs. It’s not either / or. We could modify the language to protect people’s retirements while preventing some of the worst abuses. Maybe we’d point ourselves to a better system where we pay our teachers more upfront, instead of having to let them wait for decades before they get a nice deal. And pension scandals are tied to the centralization problems Rich mentioned. I don’t think Ronen would have become such a Blago booster, if he wasn’t in a position to give her such a nice December bonus.

  30. - Greg - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:40 am:

    So we’re just going to keep debating hypotheticals instead of looking at other states as case studies?

    I’m no expert, but I know my home state’s hyper citizen/initiative-centric framework hasn’t produced a half-bad govt. They go over legislators’ heads all the time. We even vote on 1 acre annexations.

    Oh, but the con-con COULD go badly! Perish the thought, problems could make their way into Illinois state govt!

  31. - Reddbyrd - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:41 am:

    I might be wrong, but I think Capt Fax and Cal Skinner (what a duo!) forgot to share with us WHAT the benefit of leader terms might be?

    It would clear the decks for lobbyists and influential opinion maker (aka Capt. Fax) to lead the rookie leaders and members around by the nose.
    And they could be bamboozled by governors too

    I doubt there would be a reforms

    So just give us a few sentences on how these term limits work

    Seems like the weakest reason yet to spend $100 million and open up a pretty good constitution to every wing nut ( right and left threads) in the state.

  32. - wizard - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:42 am:

    VM-I luv ya man! I too am a state employee, however, I plan on voting for concon. State employees need to see how pension plans have been changing over the years. Defined Benefit plans are becoming quite rare. At some point, the state will have to change the pension system as it will no longer be able to afford the current system (even if it were caught up on contributions).

  33. - Oberon - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:45 am:

    The current Constitution designated an already-weak Governor, which is why we have so many directly-elected Constitutional officers, whereas in many other States they are appointed by and work for the Governor. But that doesn’t suit our current incumbent, and the failure of both the legislature and the other officers to rein him in illustrates the problem of one-party control so ably described by John Dean in his recent book “Broken Government.” There are no checks and balances when one party holds all offices in all branches.

    George Washington dreaded above all else what he called “factions,” and considered them the greatest domestic threat to liberty. A new Constitution needs to deal with the “fact” of political parties to in some way prevent them from effectively canceling constitutional controls.

    Many of us point fingers at the Governor, but he would have learned to behave himself long ago or would have been removed by now were it not for his enablers in the Assembly and the other Offices. They all have to accept responsibility for our current state of affairs. Words are cheap; what actions have they taken to protect the public interest, and what more can they do? The answers are: “a very few,” and “a lot.”

    Even last week’s Appellate Court decision let the Governor and his minions off easy; they deserved contempt citations for the ridiculous and absurd claim they “don’t know where the money is” to avoid producing the information demanded by the lower court.

    I’ve always had reservations about electing judges, and it seems clear the poison of “party” has infected the Third Branch as well. Yet another issue that only Con-Con could likely deal with.

  34. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:48 am:

    ==spend $100 million and open up a pretty good constitution to every wing nut==

    Boy the price just keeps getting higher and higher! If we called the con-con an “Illinois rescue plan” we could get more traction on the pro side. I agree with Scoot that this line sums up my first problem with our 40-year-old constitution: Voters don’t choose their politicians, politicians actually choose their voters. I’m going to steal/borrow that one!

  35. - Captain America - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:53 am:

    Illinois government is broken:

    We have a “madman” and likely future felon as our Governor.

    Too much power is concentrated in the hands of the Democratic and Republican legislative leaders as personified by Godfather Jones, his predecssor Troglydyte Phillip, and Speaker Machiavelli.

    Our current and last Governor will be spending significant time in the federal prison system for crimes committed in office.

    The partisan gerrymandering of local, congressional, and state legislative districts is absurd.

    Teh third largest city in the nation is governed by a competent, but corrupt, emperor/dictator.

    One of the largest counties in the country, Cook County, which would be the 17th largest state in the country, is governed by a completely incompetent and inept Board President.The Cook Baord of Comissioners is dominated by bipartisan political hacks/stooges.

    Corruption of our body politic afflicts alll levels of Illinois government on a massive scale.

    Longterm bankruptcy of State and County government appears to be a genuine possibility, if present trends continue.

    The status quo political and institional leadership wrings its hands and says “things are bad”, but they’ll get better somehow/someway - so they are collectively opposed to Con-Con.

    Everyone, regardless of their personal political ideology should be “mad-as-’heck’,” and “refuse to take it anymore.”

    Voting yes on Con-Con seems to be the only rational thing for a well-informed citizen to protest he many outrages perpetrated against the citizens of our state and supported by our status quo leadership in both parties.

  36. - Speaking At Will - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:01 am:

    It must be extremly frustrating for Bill and others of his mindset across this state to see the support that a Con - Con is getting. The panic that is setting in among those who are invested in the broken system is extremly entertaining to watch.

    What is there to be afraid of? Are we afraid the state might go another 110 billion in debt? Are we afraid that the governor of the state might become corrupt? Perhaps we are afraid that if a Con Con is held Illinois would become the laughing stock of U.S. politics. Oh wait, all of these things have already happened.

    I dont want to be excessive here, but the con-con debate is one that sincerly angers me when I here people pushing thier “fear and loathing” agenda. The anti con - con arguements are fear mongering, plain and simple.

    BTW, if the powers that be could control a con-con they would be waving the flag FOR a con-con. They wont be able to control it, thats why they are rallying against it.

    Vote for a Con - Con.

  37. - Skeeter - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:05 am:

    Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 10:15 am:

    “Skeeter, it’s possible to come up with any scheme you want in your own mind.

    My suggestion is that you open your mind.”

    I don’t have a problem with an open mind.
    It is the wallet that I like to keep closed.

  38. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:10 am:

    I understand the government employees’ opposition. The pension language in the current document is sweet. In an age when a United Airlines can roll into bankruptcy and come out the other side with a greatly reduced pension obligation, who can blame them?

    But I think it’s hilarious that the groups that make a living at the trough of state government are concerned about the cost.

    Still, I’m all for it, just for redistricting. There’s no way that the GA could ever be expected to give up their power of gerrymander and incumbent protection. An Iowa/California redistricting would open up the system like nothing else.

    Snidely, regarding the courts, I think there’s a Supreme Court one-man, one-vote ruling in effect that requires minority super-districts.

    Congratulation on the century mark for the column, Rich.

  39. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:12 am:

    ==Now, Vanman, there you go again.==

    Plagerizing Reagan isn’t going to work. Your attitude regarding government would make a serf blush with embarrassment.

    I will work as hard as I can to unshackle those self-made chains that enslave you to that false god you feel forced to worship.

  40. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:15 am:

    ==It is the wallet that I like to keep closed==

    I just don’t buy (rim shot) the cost argument from the anti-con-con powers. It is an investment if we can fix our broken system.

  41. - Anonymous - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:24 am:

    Without VM and Bill, this site would be sooo boring…

  42. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:35 am:

    Sorry about the Reagan quote, I was trying to relate.

    Now you are slamming the League of Women Voters? Who’s next, the Lions Club? Rotary? Did you ever think it is possible that all of these goo goo groups and civic organizations might have a point?
    I didn’t think so. :)

  43. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:40 am:

    ===Did you ever think it is possible that all of these goo goo groups and civic organizations might have a point?===

    Sure, but did you ever think that after 18 years of observing the system close-hand that perhaps I have a point?

    I didn’t think so. :)

  44. - Cal Skinner - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:43 am:

    An advantage of term limits for legislative leaders:

    at least the now guy or gal
    would have different friends.

    I think six years is enough, while Rich prefers 10.

  45. - Cal Skinner - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:43 am:

    I meant “new,” not “now.”

  46. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 11:43 am:

    There is no “panic”. It is not fear mongering to point out what is at stake with this vote and to be honest I don’t see this groundswell of support that you refer to, except maybe in your own mind and here on the blog once in a while. We’ll see. That is why we have elections.
    If by some strange chance I’m wrong and the referendum does pass we will all be out in force to influence delegate elections. Same old, same old.
    It seems like we have an election every six months anyway. What’s one more?

  47. - Snidely Whiplash - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:15 pm:

    If currently valid legal precedent would require a computerized redistricting system to gerrymander on a racial basis, then it is inherently unfair to Republicans and white Democrats. So, why the push for this under those circumstances?

  48. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:17 pm:

    ===then it is inherently unfair to Republicans and white Democrats.==

    Oh, please. You know very well what the federal courts would do if it didn’t take race into account. Keep the majority race whining off the blog. Thanks.

    Plus, redistricting is currently subject to judicial intervention via a racial bias claim, so how would a different system be somehow worse?

    And, frankly, if you want to be frank, these districts give Repubs an advantage because they are super-majority AA or Latino districts, which means the Dem voters in those districts can’t be spread out to create even more Dem-leaning districts.

    So, your point is not only whining, it’s not based on reality and is a complete misread of the political implications regarding GOPs.

  49. - Irish - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:18 pm:

    Bill — I am assuming that was an attempt at sarcasm? So I ought not to be swayed by what I have recently read or heard, (not all on this post) and instead should vote the other way because YOU said so? What??????????????

    Seems to me that makes my point for me. WE should be sheep led by those who SHOULD represent us and YOU who knows best? Excuse me?

  50. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:23 pm:

    Whatever. Vote however you want.

  51. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:24 pm:

    Bill throws in the towel? Whaaaaa?

  52. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:47 pm:

    I’m not trying to tell anyone how to vote. I’m just a citizen telling it like it really is. Everybody gets to make up their own mind. That is what is great about this republic.

  53. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:47 pm:

    The League of Women voters, to which I belong, should be ashamed of itself. I guess I’ll have to rethink my membership when dues renewal time comes along. Too many Democratic liberals in the leadership who think that the negative consequences of the current system are mere trifles and that we should put up with a system that engenders corruption and waste as means to an end.

  54. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 12:51 pm:

    ===Democratic liberals===
    Those darn liberals!!!!They’ll take over the country if we are not careful.

  55. - Snidely Whiplash - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 1:01 pm:


    I’m all for a CIVIL disagreement, but why is a viewpoint you disagree with “whining?” Just askin’ …

  56. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 1:17 pm:

    Because it’s inaccurate.

  57. - Irish - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 1:26 pm:

    ZC - =the last minute salary spikes School Superintendents pay themselves=
    This used to be a way that school districts used to keep a good administrator. A good fiscally intelligent administrtor is not a commodity that is in the surplus in our state and others. Getting one that understands our state’s convuluted system and can work it to the district’s advantage is a godsend. So when those administrator’s approached the last years of their career and were looking elsewhere to bump up their salary the school boards would promise them a big bump in the last year in lieu of paying them a higher salary. The school district didn’t care because they weren’t on the hook for the pension. This is one good thing this governor did while he was in office. He put a cap on that bump and on similar bumps in teachers salaries. If the district goes over the cap the district is on the hook for the extra pension money not the state pension system. This has reduced dramatically those last year bumps.
    Many have mentioned the state employee pensions. While those may look sweet to many outsiders and they are probably better than some are getting, one has to realize the context. Many of us in state employment chose our career out of a love for what we do. We put up with low wages, political interference in everything you did, the negative connotation of being “a state employee”, no cash for your overtime, long hours, and a workplace where your equipment and tools were in terrible shape and only recently has begun to comply with OSHA standards. We did this because we liked our kobs and there was one thing to look forward to, a decent pension for our retirement years. Politicians have raided our pensions and taken OUR money, the money WE paid into them. Now employee pensions are the biggest debt the state has, not befcause we have done anything but because the politicians have not made their payments and have taken our money. Now everyone wants the sytem to change because of this debt.
    One question - what does the government prosecuters do to CEOs in the private sector who take their employees pensions and spend them on things they want?????????

  58. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 1:30 pm:

    Lots of talk about gov’t employees in opposition. I’m not so sure it’s the employees who are in opposition, it’s their union leadership. They are hammering away on the pension thing to scare up a large number of “NO” votes.

    The opposition to a con-con revolves around the political leaders and those who count on the long-term relationships they have developed with the political leadership. A con-con threatens their lock on power. (Term limits, redistricting, redefinition of powers, reduction of constitutional officers, etc.)

    If the current political leadership felt they could control the direction of the con-con, they would not be so strongly opposed.

    I do find it ironic that Pat Quinn is for a con-con when he was a strong promoter of the “cutback” Amendment of 1980, arguably one of the root causes of our current difficulties.

    From a 1980 “Illinois Issues” article on the Cutback Amendment: ==The IVI-IPO ratings also show that the ranks of “good government” supporters would probably be significantly reduced. Given the “good government,” anti-party position of Patrick Quinn’s Coalition for Political Honesty and other reform groups supporting the Cutback Amendment, it is ironic that their amendment may actually strengthen the parties and undercut support for “good government” positions.==

  59. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 2:07 pm:

    Pot–nice dig in the archives! I think everyone knows PJQ is a publicity wonk and is probably only supporting the con-con to gain a bigger name for himself. I suspect he wrote his own wikipedia page. It states he is a ‘possible candidate’ to replace BHO should he win the contest in November. I don’t know the official odds of GRod choosing Quinn in that scenario, but its gotta be below zero percent!
    ==arguably one of the root causes of our current difficulties==
    I would disagree only by removing ‘arguably’. There is no doubt this is the primary factor in the current morass.

  60. - Ted - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 2:09 pm:

    You are absolutely right in your analysis. The only way we are going to address the deep and wide spread corruption in this state is thru a con-con. Now, what might get produced may not be perfect, and the efforts of noble and conscientious citizens may be undermined, but lets give it a chance. Cant be worse.

  61. - Cassandra - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 2:19 pm:

    I don’t object to state employee pensions and almost-free health care per se, I object to a national system which provides them to public, but not private sector workers automatically, although all must pay for the public sector costs. I’m not talking about Social Security, I’m talking about a guaranteed defined benefit pension above and beyond SS, which is portable between workplaces both public and private. If we can pay a trillion to bail out Wall Street and a trillion to save the Iraqis from themselves, plus billions to support
    public sector pensions, we can afford a guaranteed defined benefit pension for all of us. It’s all about how you set priorities. Ditto universal health care.

  62. - Phineas J. Whoopee - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 2:53 pm:

    If the ads in Capitol Fax are correct and the con con will cost 80 mil maybe it is just what we need to jump start the State economy. That’s 80 mil in jobs for many white collar workers. It is not only blue collar workers who need a capital plan. A vote for the con con would stimulate our economy and may even fix Illinois corruption problems.

  63. - Gadfly - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:00 pm:


    Just curious — if a con con passes, who do you think will recruit candidates, manage the majority of campaigns for delegate elections and thus demand the elected delegates loyalty?

    And, assuming your answer will be what I think to be the case, how does that really change anything?

  64. - Pot calling kettle - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:10 pm:

    Gadfly, if those folks felt they could control the show, their opposition would not be so strong and well-funded. Once elected, it is likely that a group of con-con delegates from somewhere in the middle would end up breaking away and start calling the shots. No re-election campaign worries means a bit more freedom, at least for some, and that’s all it would take.

  65. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:19 pm:

    ===And, assuming your answer will be what I think to be the case, how does that really change anything? ===

    MJM and the SDems are having a hard enough time managing what they’ve got right now, so I don’t think they’ll be running a slew of delegates.

    Look at the background of delegates to the last con-con. Lots and lots of hacks, but they were outmaneuvered.

  66. - Louis G. Atsaves - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:29 pm:

    Let’s see if I have this right.

    It would cost too much money to hold a constitutional convention so we should leave broken government broken. The special interests across all spectrums are opposed to a constitutional convention as are the current office holders.

    So it is broken so leave it broken? The system works just fine so leave it alone?

    Going door to door I am running into way too many fed up folks who have the right to vote who plan on expressing their anger, both nationally and locally, more nationally than locally. I have yet to run across anyone who honestly feel that government is working for them right now.

    With that attitude, I can see the con-con provision actually receiving a majority vote which should put a lot of locals on the spot. 60%? Wait for the Rezko sentencing hearing and additional news stories about our Springfield Governent for sale, and 60% suddenly does not look all that distant.

  67. - MOON - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:31 pm:


    I do not have a position with regards to con-con.
    What I find ironic is Assessor Houlihans intention to fund a pro con-con position.
    This guy should stick to his job; if he did the assessment process in Cook would not be in the mess it is currently in.

    Furthermore I would suggest Houlihan starts sending his money to his good friend Blago. Based upon what I know Blago’s legal fees are going up in a big way in the foreseeable future

  68. - Gadfly - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 3:57 pm:


    I’ve been looking for a list of delegates to the 70 convention — where can I find one?

    Anyway, fair enough — maybe they would have their hands full, but something tells me there’d be slack picked up elsewhere.

    My guess is trial lawyers throw a minimum of $10 million to try and protect their interests — remember the money they threw at a Supreme Court seat and understand that rewriting the constitution is bigger than that. Add to that many millions more from labor and their allies and I think cash won’t be an issue for Dems.

    On the other side, a broad base of business groups plus health care/insurance/pharms will combine to enrich Republican delegate campaigns in similar amounts.

    Sure, MJM/Cross/SDems/Watson may not have enough folks to handle the sheer volume of on-the-ground campaigns taking place throughout the state, but they will be supplemented. Labor will throw in organizers and the trial lawyer cash will buy plenty of staff as well, same for the Republicans.

    So, let’s assume that voters approve a con con in November. My reading of the Constitution says there is no requisite time frame for the election of delegates. In the next session of the GA (spring ‘09), the legislature would set the election, time and place for the start of the convention (within three months of the delegate election), pay and expenses and little else. It is not prescribed whether it would be a partisan election (although I assume it would be), there is no restriction on when the election must be held, nothing.

    I could be wrong about this, but I believe the delegates for the 1970 convention were elected in a special election.

    The leaders could follow that example and set a special election for October or November or even December (when interest would be way low) ‘09 with the intention that delegates be seated in January ‘10.

    All the normal rules of a special elections would then apply. Turnout would likely be similar to that of a normal muni election, maybe 10-15% and a huge advantage would be given to those who have high name ID, or strong organizational support that allows them to field a formidable precinct operation, or lots and lots of money, or any combination of the above. The GA could even set in motion a shortened petition-gathering season on top of it to further strengthen leadership-backed delegate candidates.

    At least, that’s what I’d do if I were a leader and wanted to keep it the way it is despite a call.

    You’ve probably noticed, but I’m a NO on the question — it isn’t that I don’t think we need change, it’s that I just don’t think it would accomplish much. I sincerely doubt we would get the reforms of the GA that you’re looking for. We might get some reforms to the executive branch, some clarity on the relatively few issues that are now constitutionally ambiguous and not much else. In the end, a slightly amended document — unless one party dominated the delegate elections, in which case you might simply get a worse document that’s bad for everyone and would (hopefully) be rejected by voters.

    Besides, they should call it Con Con if it happens, they should call it by its real name — The Lobbyist Employment Act of 2008.

  69. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:00 pm:

    ===remember the money they threw at a Supreme Court seat ===

    Yeah, and they lost.

  70. - Bill - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:03 pm:

    === The only way we are going to address the deep and wide spread corruption in this state is thru a con-con. ===

    So I guess we’ll have an article in the new constitution to make corruption unconstitutional. Yeah, that’ll do it. Maybe, we could have an article making Blagojevich and Stroger unconstitutional. And while we’re at it let’s go for an article that makes the sales tax in Cook County unconstitutional. And then we could have an article to never have Mike Madigan as Speaker again. We could also have an article that makes it unconstitutional for a democrat from Illinois to run for President. When we’re done with all that then we’ll get started on making sure it is unconstitutional for every citizen in Illinois to NOT carry a concealed weapon. We could probably get in an article that says women are only 3/5 of a citizen.
    I’m sure all of this will happen and that will make the concon worth $80-100 million.
    Let’s do it.

  71. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:04 pm:

    ===And then we could have an article to never have Mike Madigan as Speaker again.===

    I thought you’d be for that one, Bill.

  72. - MOON - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:06 pm:


    What about REDDBYRDS post at 10:41 am.Shed some light on this matter

  73. - phocion - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:18 pm:

    I find Harmon’s position disheartening. But here’s a fun fact about the 1970 Convention. A young student tried to get on as a delegate. In typical Chicago style, he was told “we don’t want nobody nobody sent.” He went on to sue in federal court. Of course, by the time the court got around to it, that convention was long over. What the court did, however, still has significant ripple effects upon Chicago politics. That student’s name was Michael Shakman. The court continues to enforce the Shakman Decree that has done much to eliminate patronage. So, even if the convention only does minor tweaks to the Constitution, much good, if unexpected, can come of it. And maybe that’s what has the powers that be shaking in their boots.

  74. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:29 pm:

    MOON, with more seniority comes more power. With seniority and the gavel comes ever more power. MJM has been Speaker since 1983, except for two years. How old were you in 1983?

    That’s a lot of power to accumulate over time. What we need to do is force power away from the center out to the members. Term limits on leaders can help accomplish this.

  75. - MOON - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:40 pm:


    My concern is how the power is used or abused.
    I really think a more detailed explanation is needed from you on this subject.

  76. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:41 pm:

    I don’t get what you’re asking here. You want to see how it’s used and abused? Read the blog for a few months.

  77. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:44 pm:

    Actually, nevermind. I can see by earlier comments that you are a 100 percenter on the MJM front. I refuse to debate further.

  78. - MOON - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:51 pm:

    I read the blog often. My concern is not how much power one has but rather do they abuse their power. At no time am I aware of Madigan being guilty of abusing his power. MJM is a master at dealing with the likes of Blago and Jones. Without the power Madigan has, just think of the BS. Blago and Jones would have gotten away with.

    I do not always agree with Madigan , but I am glad he has the power to put Blago and Jones in their place.

  79. - MOON - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 4:55 pm:


    I am not a 100 percenter Madigan supporter. But, I fully support MJM in his battles with Blago and Jones. In order to win these battles you need POWER.

  80. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 5:04 pm:

    ==Maybe, we could have an article making Blagojevich and Stroger unconstitutional. And while we’re at it let’s go for an article that makes the sales tax in Cook County unconstitutional. And then we could have an article to never have Mike Madigan as Speaker again. We could also have an article that makes it unconstitutional for a democrat from Illinois to run for President. When we’re done with all that then we’ll get started on making sure it is unconstitutional for every citizen in Illinois to NOT carry a concealed weapon. We could probably get in an article that says women are only 3/5 of a citizen.==

    Bill, do you wear a powdered wig on your head when you rant like this? The only thing sillier than reading about how liberals or conservatives will do this or that is reading your rants against self government and democracy.

    You seat in the House of Lords is ready, Lord Bill of Intellectual Vanity by The Sea.

  81. - BandCamp - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 5:09 pm:

    VM - Your Old English snark is in uber-drive today. LOL.

  82. - Rich Miller - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 5:23 pm:

    ===But, I fully support MJM in his battles with Blago and Jones. In order to win these battles you need POWER. ===

    Ever heard the phrase: “Take the toys from the boys”?

  83. - 11th CD Dude - Tuesday, Sep 30, 08 @ 9:50 pm:

    Or, they set everything up during the Nov. veto session and elect delegates during the spring consolidated election and the convention starts in June when the House chamber is free (just kidding about that last part, the con-con will probably finish up before the House adjourns).

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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