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Pritzker defends “citizen legislature” concept

Thursday, Jan 23, 2020

* Gov. Pritzker was asked today by a reporter in Edwardsville if “more leaders in Springfield” should follow Senate President Don Harmon’s lead and quit their outside jobs. His response…

Well, you know, we have a citizen legislature. And so what we demand of our legislators is that they bring with them the experience of being a lawyer, or being a doctor, you know, working in business, being a farmer. We in Illinois, we chose long ago to have a legislature made up of people from vastly different experiences. So I don’t think there’s any requirement for people to step aside from their jobs.

What is important is that when they’re voting on issues that they’re abstaining from voting on things that directly impact or benefit them. And as you know, I’m working very hard with legislators to pass ethics legislation in Springfield so that we don’t have to worry anymore about what’s happening about legislators getting in trouble as they have been over the last few months.

It’s very important to me that we bring transparency so that we know what the conflicts of interest are, and that we let you the members of the press and the public be able to look up and see how much power is a company wielding upon a legislator. How much money are they really giving? How many lobbyists do they have that are working over that legislator? So I think the more transparency there is about that, the less likely it is that we’re going to have problems going forward.


- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Rich Miller - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:04 pm:

    1) No praise for Harmon, which seems odd. Every mention of Harmon’s name ought to invoke a positive response over the next several weeks.

    2) The other three legislative leaders all earn outside income, so he dodged that question but good, and for good reason. The dude wants to pass bills.

  2. - Responsa - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:04 pm:

    A citizen legislature would work well with a term limits component. The governor’s statement comes across as a wee bit naive.

  3. - DIstant watcher - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    He’s not wrong

  4. - Bertrum Cates - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    Mature and practical. He did not tap into the populist vain his immediate predecessors did when they were served up with fat softballs.

    Save for a few “you know” and “so,” he has a good gubernatorial voice.

  5. - JB - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    Legislative salary is not big enough to mandate no outside income. Look at the great Legislators who have left because the salary is not enough to pay for their families…Dan Kotowski, Dave Sullivan, Matt Murphy and others I’m not remembering right now. Those three were Outstanding and ethical Legislators and it’s too bad their public careers were cut short by finances.

  6. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:08 pm:

    It should be noted when talking about income out and being paid by the state, Gov. Pritzker is paying “some” staff to… supplement… income, because public service doesn’t pay enough…

    I write that… should legislators get a significant pay raise to end outside income?

    Seems like a slam dunk “no”, but how can this governor say that when he readily admits “working” for the state and the monies for that work, for some, need “supplementing” to bring in the best.

    So, if the governor is a “no” on pay raises, that its a public service, how does he justify his supplementing?

  7. - Former Candidate on the Ballot - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:10 pm:

    I agree with the Governor on this and his reasoning. I do not believe that being in either chamber or the ILGA should be a full time job.

  8. - Red Ranger - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:12 pm:

    The Governor is right, if only there was a website where the public could look and see what companies or non-profits are employing lobbyists, that would be awesome. Maybe it could be run by the Secretary of State? That would be outstanding

  9. - Oak Parker - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:20 pm:

    JB has to say no because if he said yes we should ban outside income, the next proposal will be for JB to personally double the salaries of members of the General Assembly out of his own pocket. (snark)

  10. - thechampaignlife - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:21 pm:

    One weekend a month, two weeks in the summer. That’s all a citizen chamber should need. Keep the Senate the professionals, then there is a check and balance.

  11. - Loop Lady - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:21 pm:

    This action by President Harmon should be the norm.
    Who are you serving in the legislature anyway?

  12. - Bertrum Cates - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:27 pm:

    Loop Lady, how does removing an income source away from legislators is going to INCREASE their dedication to their constituents? What chance does that give would-be legislators would cannot afford to participate in government?

    During the impasse, there were legislators driving for ride shares to pay their bills.

  13. - Powdered Whig - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:27 pm:

    The governor is spot on.

  14. - Bertrum Cates - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:28 pm:

    How does removing an income source from legislators*

    I can’t brain today. Sorry.

  15. - Powdered Whig - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:30 pm:

    === One weekend a month, two weeks in the summer. That’s all a citizen chamber should need. ===

    Come on. How can any legislature do their due diligence with that time frame? A lot of these issues are much more nuanced and complex than the average person gives credit for.

  16. - City Zen - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:32 pm:

    What about legislation or proposed constitutional amendments sponsored by employees of organizations that benefit from said legislation or constitutional amendments? Asking for a Ram.

  17. - A Jack - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:37 pm:

    So Marty Sandoval didn’t have a regular job, did he? Possibly having a regular job in a licensed occupation such as law, medicine, or even real estate might help with keeping a GA member honest since they could lose that license if they do something corrupt. And the GA is not a “forever” job for most members, so they need to keep up their client base for when they leave the GA.

  18. - Tommy - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:39 pm:

    == No praise of Harmon, which seems odd ==

    That was my initial reaction. But maybe Team JB is afraid if he praises Harmon on this, it would be seen as a backdoor criticism of the other leaders. Then again, maybe I’m being naive and there is real tension between the two.

    To the bigger question, maybe the answer is to have two-tier salaries for GA members. If your willing to take no outside income and be a full time legislator, you get a higher salary. If you want to work a side gig, you get a lower salary.

  19. - Fireman’s Kid - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:40 pm:

    JB (the commenter) makes a good point about the difficulty of
    making mortgage and tuition payments if one didn’t make a bundle before being elected and has only a legislator’s salary. Look at the solons who have moved on when their kids were starting college.

    While one must be in Springfield only five months a year, and sharp staff can help with constituent service, the increasing
    cost of campaigns, especially in swing districts, means fundraising can never stop. That’s what can get old. Seems any discussion of a full-time legislature needs to be
    accompanied by discussion of serious campaign finance reform.

  20. - Southern Illinois Infrastructure - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:52 pm:

    Term limits are not truly an answer IMO, I look across the river to Missouri that has term limits and yet that state is dysfunctional as Illinois is. The problem is that state legislators that get termed out have as much control serving as lobbyists. Lots of people over there regret that term limits passed. Search for the KC Star article on this, it’s a doozy.

  21. - Thomas Paine - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:57 pm:

    The Governor can’t criticize lawmakers for earning outside income when he is providing his own senior staff with outside income.

    I suspect that legislative salaries have atleast something to do with the high turnover rate for the GOP caucuses. Increasing pay will require bipartisan support, and it’s something they ought to consider. A good lawmaker works 50-60 hours a week.

  22. - SSL - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 4:58 pm:

    No problem with outside income. Big problem with conflicts of interest, simply because that has been a significant problem in this state. Some may find it hard to believe, but Illinois has an awful reputation across the country due to political corruption. Luckily we’re past all that now.

  23. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 5:05 pm:

    Southern Illinois Infrastructure -
    CA’s term limits (designed to take out a powerful Democratic Speaker / most powerful African American elected official) made CA dysfunctional. Until Brown Jr.’s 2nd two terms.

  24. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 5:11 pm:

    === So, if the governor is a “no” on pay raises, that its a public service, how does he justify his supplementing?===

    Rich, in comments, answers this, by getting to the root of the issue, the politics of the issue;

    === The other three legislative leaders all earn outside income, so he dodged that question but good, and for good reason. The dude wants to pass bills.===

    My point, in all, the business of serving in government doesn’t pay to be in public service, be it a legislator or now… a staffer.

    The next non-billionaire Governor looking to hire good staff will be perplexed, that the bar now is to double salaries in the executive, and also let legislators, legally and ethically, earn outside income too.

    But, is the Pritzker monies to staff truly outside income or paying to do the same job they’re doing, but get paid better doing it… which is why… if legislators are given a raise, an increase of salary to do the same job, and have no other work, isn’t that the argument this executive is arguing to do the people’s business? Sure, the Governor is the one paying, but the argument is the same.

  25. - Political Animal - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 5:23 pm:

    When do we get to stop pretending we have a part time legislature?

    You can’t do this job if you have the type of career the vast majority of Illinoisans do. You can sometimes do it if you’re a lawyer, government employee, or a couple other professions.

    Even when they’re not in session, good lawmakers are working. They’re meeting with constituents, developing ideas for legislation, and a lot more.

    Its basically a full time job already.

  26. - lake county democrat - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 5:25 pm:

    Anti-Reformers always say “the answer is transparency!” I’m not saying every reform idea is good, but “transparency” is a dodge designed to detract attention from wink-and-nod conflicts of interest that a high schooler could recognize.

  27. - Dybalaton - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 6:07 pm:

    I agree, though we should move to a New Hampshire model where legislators are unpaid but get a per diem when in session. No government pensions or health insurance either of course.

  28. - MG85 - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 6:32 pm:

    ==When do we get to stop pretending we have a part time legislature?==

    Amen. I understand why JB may hesitate to jump on the Harmon model for fear of rubbing other leaders the wrong way, but if I’m a Republican leader right now in the GA, I may need to construct a good response to the question JB was asked.

    How can a GOP leaders escape the trap that question offers: If they say no it’s fine to have outside employment, then it lets Madigan off the hook. If they say yes, then they will have to explain why they have yet to step down from their outside employment.

    I maintain my argument that public servants are woefully underpaid. If they charged us, the taxpayer, per hour, then we would have to pay more than triple what they currently make. Also, the lower the salary means the lower quality of employee. Do we truly want only those who can afford to take no salary (i.e. millionaires and billionaires) to be the only ones among us can afford to serve in the general assembly? I would prefer a salary that would compensate adequately a downstate single widowed mother of 2 and afford her the ability to serve so she can be a voice for her constituents if they so desire to send her right along with a wealthy farmer who sells milk on the side.

  29. - May Soon Be Required - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 6:34 pm:

    == No praise for Harmon ==

    JB and Team JB worked for and wanted Kim.
    Harmon should be praised but the President is very smart and this was a very smart move on his part.

  30. - Pot calling kettle - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 6:47 pm:

    === One weekend a month, two weeks in the summer. That’s all a citizen chamber should need. ===


    Constituents expect a government servant who is available in person or by phone almost 24-7. They call or visit the district office with the expectation of talking to their elected rep or senator. That is the reality of the office. Frankly, it limits the positions to those who are retired, wealthy, or have very flexible work schedules.

  31. - DougChicago - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 6:56 pm:

    I honestly think the solution is to cut back both chambers and to pay them at a level that does reflect the amount of work they do. A salary sort of close to what a member of Congress is paid makes sense. It’s really no longer practical to think of them as part-time legislators at this point. No one can really hold a job — outside of law or insurance sales maybe — and be in Springfield most of 5-6 months a year.

  32. - Anyone Remember - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 7:12 pm:

    Dybalaton -
    ” … legislators are unpaid but get a per diem when in session. No government pensions or health insurance either of course.”
    Lot easier in the 46th largest state (NH) than the 25th largest state (IL).

  33. - Roman - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 8:21 pm:

    - Dybalaton -

    New Hampshire has 400 state reps — the largest state legislative chamber in the nation. That’s one state rep for ever 3,300 residents. To match that representative-to-population ratio, Illinois would need almost 33,000 state reps. I suppose we could make Soldier Field the new capitol building.

  34. - DougChicago - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 8:54 pm:

    And I forgot to add once you pay them like members of Congress they have to be banned from outside income just like members of Congress are.

  35. - Chris - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 8:55 pm:

    Well, it is not a situation where President Harmon’s family is relying only on his legislative salary (or any other income related to government or political employment).

    Which certainly makes the calculus a bit different for them as compared to other leaders. And raising *that* might also be something the Guv would like to avoid.

  36. - Justacitizen - Thursday, Jan 23, 20 @ 9:49 pm:

    Pritzker’s citizen legislature argument lends support for: 1) term limits; and 2) eliminating the general assembly retirement system (GARS).

  37. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Friday, Jan 24, 20 @ 6:33 am:

    == Pritzker’s citizen legislature argument lends support for: 1) term limits; and 2) eliminating the general assembly retirement system (GARS).==
    That makes no sense. How are these things related?

  38. - Foolish Sophist - Friday, Jan 24, 20 @ 7:51 am:

    1) The citizen legislature model is grounded in contrived nostalgia for a time where there simply wasn’t so much to address. Illinois’ population is greater than a majority of the countries in the world, and the issues that it faces aren’t getting any simpler. Arguing for a less active legislature in such an environment is like arguing that gym teachers should pay attention to their classes only an eighth of the time: both provide a wide berth for the strong to bully the weak. So count me in favor of full-time legislators.

    2) Is the legislative product enhanced by limiting its members to people in professions that let them abscond for months of legislative service at a time, or does this skew the results in not necessarily helpful ways?

    2) People grouse about legislative salaries all the time. But paying a generous legislative salary is like hitting the drive-through before going to the grocery store: yes, you’re paying more up front, but you’ll save much more because you won’t be shopping with your stomach…

  39. - City Zen - Friday, Jan 24, 20 @ 8:30 am:

    ==How are these things related?==

    I suppose eliminating GARS might indirectly limit terms. Of course, it would only impact future politicians.

    GARS needs an overhaul anyway. The service credit calculation is obscene.

  40. - Under Further Review - Friday, Jan 24, 20 @ 8:55 am:

    Remember that many members of the IL GA over the past 10 years have had their salaries suspended by Governor’s from both parties (Quinn and Rauner). This lasted 4 months and 10 months respectively.

    This was a move widely applauded by the public. Turns out the Supreme Court appropriately thinks that shaking down another branch of government is poor form. It most certainly a chilling effect on Democracy if one believes that at least some seats should be held by individuals who are not independently wealthy.

    The point being, at any time, another Governor could pull this stunt and be cheered on by a significant majority of the populous. How does one without outside income navigate those waters?

  41. - Huh? - Friday, Jan 24, 20 @ 8:58 am:

    Not impressed. It is easy for someone worth $3 billion to be a “citizen politician”.

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