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Unintended consequences

Thursday, Oct 22, 2009

* This is what passes for wisdom at the Pantagraph

The argument for ousting statewide office-holders through term limits is not as compelling as the case for legislative term limits. All voters have the opportunity to vote against re-election of a statewide office-holder, which is not the case for individual lawmakers.

Term limits on Illinois lawmakers is an idea whose time has come.

One painful lesson we learned over and over when Rod Blagojevich was around was that the Illinois governor has too much constitutional power. Yet, the Pantagraph would weaken the General Assembly further without touching the governor’s authority.

Are the legislative leaders too powerful? Of course. But they got that power through political muscle, not the Constitution. Because they have so few powers enumerated to them, they’ve had to build their own power base with politics. That’s one reason why they are so reluctant to give up their political powers via campaign finance reform (although they are also undoubtedly loathe to cede their grand fiefdoms to the whims of a bunch of reformers and Republicans). Take away their political leverage and the governor’s constitutional powers will only be enhanced.

The same is essentially true of the Chicago mayor. Legally, the city has a “weak mayor” form of government, so the only way mayors have been able to truly govern effectively is if they had a powerful political organization. Witness Jane Byrne’s flip-flop after she defeated the Machine for a prime example, and Harold Washington’s losses to the Machine until he elected more sympathetic aldermen.

I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but it’s a fact.

What we have to decide here is what sort of government we really want, rather than just picking and choosing reforms cafeteria-style. That’s why I supported the Constitutional Convention last year. We need a thorough debate on this. Top-down.

Instead, we get endless rants from mindless editorial boards and publicity hungry politicians.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

34 Comments
  1. - Levois - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 11:34 am:

    What you’re suggesting is that it’s time we re-write the state constitution. Although I do agree we might need to revamp the Governor’s powers especially in light of what Rod Blagojevich did to transit legislation to allow all seniors to ride public transit for free. That was an abuse for certain.


  2. - David Ormsby - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 11:39 am:

    Agreed.


  3. - dupage dan - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 11:43 am:

    So, who controls the con con? How can us flat landers have influence over the process? Won’t we just get clouted out of the process?


  4. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 11:45 am:

    ===What you’re suggesting===

    I’m not suggesting it, I’m saying it, and have been for almost 2 years.


  5. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:08 pm:

    I’m not a favor of term limits of any sort. It’s a weak-minded solution for those who can’t garner a majority. Reagan was pretty honked he couldn’t run (and win, certainly) a third term because a bunch of GOP sore losers hated the by-then-dead FDR.

    Having said that, gerrymndering reform is a must. Those editorial writers ought to get back on Con-Con.


  6. - Squideshi - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:39 pm:

    I might argue that it’s political parties that have too much power, rather than legislative leaders. It might be that legislative leaders have their power as a function of the mechanisms of political parties. I mean, just look at all the advantages they grant to “established” political parties, over “new” political parties and independent candidates, not to mention what they grant to “leading” political parties.

    At the very least, I do think we need a constitutional amendment that addresses the process by which the constitution is amended.


  7. - Ghost - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:39 pm:

    ==== Take away their political leverage and the governor’s constitutional powers will only be enhanced. ===

    I couldn’t agree more. This has been my longstanding complaint wih all this so called reform. The Govenor right now weilds extraoridnmary influence with his ability to control how money is actually spent. The GA can approve money for funding projects in every leguislative distrit, th the Gov can withold the money. thus the Gov can use access to spending on state construction, education etc, or the continued existance of state facilties and jobs in any legislative distrit to garner support for legislation or as a block on a veto override.

    One of the ways to keep this in check is to have strong leaders; and leaders that can channel resoruces into a district for election purposes where a govenor may have been messign with jobs or other spending in order to retalite against the local elected official.

    The leaders powers and lack of caps currently operates as the only check on the executives power. I would prefer a better system of checks and balances, but weakening via reform the only exisitng blockade for the power of the executive is moving backwards. Were not providing reform, we are responding to pat collins dislike for madigan. Its not the best system, but it beats the alternative one person in power system the reformers are looking to serve up.

    To the reformers i say: “you have no idea how to [operate governement so that power is balanced properly betwen the executive and legislative branches. All [your reforms do is] weaken [the check on the govenors power]. That’s all [this] does. You put people’s lives in danger. Sweet dreams, [reformer’s].”


  8. - Squideshi - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:40 pm:

    I forgot to mention that I want a completely nonpartisan legislature–like Nebraska.


  9. - CircularFiringSquad - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:47 pm:

    Actually the Pantagraph “plan” cedes power to the special interests…utilities,banks, docs, real estate, manufacturers who OSHA/EPA are a commie plot— you get the picture.
    Governor’s usually have their favorite SIs, so the legislature is the last line of defense. Weaken the caucuses and it is really good nite Irene for consumers/taxpayers.


  10. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:49 pm:

    Squid, what the heck are you talking about? NE is a unicameral legislature, meaning one house. Trust me, it is filled with Democrats and Republicans. Mostly Republicans, but it is most certainly partisan (sorry, no Greens there either).

    A unicam is worth considering, but I’d much prefer a return to cumulative voting and the big house in Illinois.


  11. - fedup dem - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 12:56 pm:

    The clowns at the Pantagraph ought to spend some time watching Califonia State government in inaction to see the follhardiness of legislative term limits, other wise known as a legislative version of Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour! That might knock some sense into their heads!


  12. - Just Observing - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:02 pm:

    ===I forgot to mention that I want a completely nonpartisan legislature–like Nebraska.===

    Nebraska also has a unicameral legislature. Although I don’t know the pros/cons of that — just thought I’d throw that out there.

    Anyways, I’m strongly against term limits. Public policy is learned, in part, through experience and study. Legislators better understand public policies the more they study it — why create a always-revolving door of “citizen” legislators that by the time they grasp the state they are on their way out.

    And why force the citizens of the state to be deprived of the representation of a really “good” legislator if they desire to keep him or her? And why not rely on the citizens to dump a “bad” legislator at the voting booth?


  13. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:09 pm:

    OK, I owe Squideshi his due. Technically the Nebraska Unicameral Legislature is nonpartisan. But it is nonpartisan in the same way Chicago’s city council is nonpartisan. One big primary per district, if no one receives 50%, the top two finishers go to a run-off.

    But there are Democrats and Republicans most certainly and the newspapers identify candidates with those labels, making the argument fairly meaningless.

    But Squideshi was correct and I was wrong. Weird too, since I’ve lobbied some of the Nebraska senators and they were always very upfront about being D or R.


  14. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:09 pm:

    What are the benefits of an (allegedly) non-partisan unicameral legislature and how have they manifested themselves?


  15. - My Kind of Town - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:19 pm:

    “If a great crisis in state government occurred that aroused public ire just before November 2008, the voters might see a convention as the only way to improve Illinois government. Such a crisis might be a financial disaster, but it is more likely to be a crisis in the integrity of government, a scandal.” James D. Nowlan, 2007.


  16. - 47th Ward - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:20 pm:

    Good question Word,

    Fewer checks/balances isn’t exactly a benefit in my mind. Plus they passed term limits a few years ago (the limits were intended to remove the longest serving senator, Ernie Chambers, who was a constant thorn in the side of many GOP members, but that’s another story). Now the staff and the lobbyists run the place. Go figure.

    Still, they know how to keep score: 35 Rs, and 14 Ds in the Unicam, with two committees chaired by Ds.

    Another (weird/quaint) bit of NE legislative trivia: senators are paid about $15K per year. I can’t believe anyone runs. Now with term limits too, each Nebraskan might as well simply take turns as senator.

    In my mind, as bad as things are here, Nebraska isn’t the best place to borrow ideas from.


  17. - krome - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:20 pm:

    Perhaps we should just name Obama Emperor of Illinois and dispense with electing anyone.


  18. - Bookworm - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:30 pm:

    A number of states that have tried legislative term limits have repealed them because they caused just as many or more problems than they allegedly solved. One of the biggest problems is that if too many legislators are forced out at one time, the influence of longtime staffers and lobbyists (who know a lot of things about the legislative process that the newbies don’t, AND have had many years to prove their knowledge and reliability) increases tremendously.


  19. Pingback ArchPundit | Well Rich, The Pantagraph Has Improved - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:37 pm:

    […] Yes, it’s a mindnumblingly stupid editorial, but you should remember the schlock of yester years like the breathless reporting of Satanic Worship coming to McLean County because a sheep was found bloodied and dead.  After reporting that it must be a sacrifice from a Satanic Cult, turns out someones dog got himself a bit of sheep. Oops. […]


  20. - ArchPundit - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:42 pm:

    I mean, no one would ever bring up who the other guy is going to vote for in a leadership election during a campaign so there is no check on legislative leaders….


  21. - Conservative Veteran - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:53 pm:

    In Phil Collins’ campaign for state rep. (R-17th Dist.), he says that he supports term limits, the ability to recall any elected official, and special elections to replace U.S. senators, state senators, and state reps. who resign or die, in office.


  22. - Secret Square - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 1:57 pm:

    If there MUST be legislative term limits, why not make them equal to or longer than the average tenure of legislators? If the average House member stays in office, say, 10 years, make the limit 12 or 14 years.

    Set it long enough that the majority of legislators won’t bump up against the term limit, and you avoid the wholesale turnover that causes problems in states like Nebraska, California, etc.


  23. - Secret Square - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 2:00 pm:

    Regarding Con Con: a lot of people worried last year that a con-con would cost way too much when the state’s budget was already strained. But how much has it cost us so far NOT to have a con-con? (Not just in monetary cost but in embarrassment too)


  24. - Squideshi - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 2:07 pm:

    I knew that Nebraska’s legislature is unicameral. I support that too. There’s no good reason to maintain two separate houses within the state–it just adds cost and complexity which further insulates the public from the process. Quinn would have done better supporting a unicameral legislature, rather than his famous cutback amendment, if he wanted to save money.

    Regarding the nonpartisan makeup of Nebraska’s legislature, yes, I am well aware that while the races themselves are nonpartisan, most of the time the candidates are political party members; however, that’s fine–in a nonpartisan election, being a party member doesn’t provide you with any legal privileges, such as state recognized legislative leaders with special powers or an easier time getting on the ballot.


  25. - anon - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 2:09 pm:

    From what I’ve seen over the years, there is nothing more dangerous than a “lame duck” legislator. They will vote for anything because they are not up for reelection. Yeah, that’s what we need, 1/3 of our legislators doing whatever they want every year.


  26. - My Kind of Town - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 2:38 pm:

    Can anyone name a single elected official who pledged to serve only “x” terms and then did not renege on his/her pledge?


  27. - wordslinger - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 2:44 pm:

    –There’s no good reason to maintain two separate houses within the state–it just adds cost and complexity which further insulates the public from the process.–

    There are checks and balances and diffusion of power, just as in Congress.

    If legislators, lobbyists and reporters can follow along, I don’t think there’s anything too complex going on in the GA that the public can’t grasp, if they’re interested.

    Again, what’s so great about a unicameral legislature?


  28. - My Kind of Town - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 4:18 pm:

    A bicameral legislature is supposed to steady the government’s long term course, provided the “upper” chamber accepts that responsibility. Under President Jones, the Illinois Senate abdicated its responsibility. Legislative power in Illinois is controlled by the benjamins and little else. Until that changes, nothing will.


  29. - dupage dan - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 4:54 pm:

    I would be concerned that any con con would be controlled by the benjamins, as well. How can we voters be assured that the convention would allow for some outside the power structure have a voice?


  30. - My Kind of Town - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 5:31 pm:

    Con Con proposed changes require voter approval.


  31. - steve schnorf - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 6:59 pm:

    as did the re-election of our previous governor; a fine protection indeed


  32. - Patrick McDonough - Thursday, Oct 22, 09 @ 10:51 pm:

    As a licensed Plumber, I say the State of Illinois and Chicago is down the toilet.


  33. - Term Limits For Legislators - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 9:22 am:

    Do it. Maybe then we could see some real leadership instead of Michael Madigan’s scheming ways. Good riddance.


  34. - this old hack - Friday, Oct 23, 09 @ 9:34 am:

    Right. Then you would get what you have in California, where the Speaker of the Assembly has just begun her 3rd term and was elected to the post in her 2nd term. In Colorado, the legislators simply don’t have the neccessary experience to be able to question agency represetatives in committee. Why is this? The agency heads can stay as long as they want and are not subject to term limits. Only the lawmakers are.

    If you want staff, lobbyists and the executive branch to have more power, go for it. In all states with Leg term limits, the executive branch benefits as they have a larger budget and more resources than the Legislature. The reps and senators then must rely more and more on staff and lobbyists, which raises many accountability issues. One does not vote for a staffer or a lobbyist. You vote for a lawmaker.

    I prefer to have a competent legislature that is able to carry out its constitutionally mandated role of passing laws and being a viable check on the executive branch. I thought conservatives were against concentration of power?

    That’s leadership.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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