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* My weekly syndicated newspaper column kicks off an election-season series about the upcoming vote on an Illinois constitutional convention…
There is a defect in the Illinois Constitution that is so fundamentally fatal that it practically begs voters to approve a state constitutional convention this November.
You cannot correct this flaw by throwing every incumbent out of office. The prospect of legislating a solution is nil.
The problem is that the Illinois Constitution has allowed three people to accumulate infinitely more power than the framers ever dreamt possible.
Those three people are the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor.
The problem was exacerbated in 1980, when voters were misled into approving a constitutional amendment that slashed the size of the General Assembly by a third. Before then, there were three House members in each Senate district, and both major parties were assured of holding at least one of those seats.
Republicans in Chicago, who currently have almost no voice in any governmental body, all had at least one GOP state representative. The same was true for Democrats in DuPage. But the voters decided that fewer legislators was a better idea.
The independent thinkers were mostly wiped out in 1982, the first election after the Cutback Amendment took effect. A few months later, a brilliant Democratic politician named Michael Madigan was elected House speaker. Madigan was eventually nicknamed “The Velvet Hammer” for the way he consolidated power over the now much more easily governable House.
Ten years later, a new district map allowed the Senate Republicans to seize control from the Democrats and their leader decided to wage war on Madigan’s House. The Senate used the war to justify passing a new set of rules that stripped rank-and-file members of numerous basic rights. Those powers now were completely in the hands of Senate President Pate Philip.
The House Republicans essentially adopted the Senate GOP’s rules when they took control two years later. Madigan took back the House in 1996 and kept the Republican rules in place.
No bill or amendment can advance without the approval of the speaker or the president.
Members are simply powerless.
Throughout time, the legislative party leaders also learned how to control who would be elected to the General Assembly. Once elected, they are beholden to their leaders for literally everything.
Something else happened during this time period. All state budgets were negotiated behind closed doors by the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor. The multibillion-dollar budgets were then presented “as is” to members, who would dutifully pass it so they could leave town for the summer. Then other issues were added to the budget negotiations, and pretty soon all big issues were being decided by the three men.
And then Rod Blagojevich was elected governor.
Blagojevich despised Madigan while he was in the Illinois House during the early 1990s, and he set out to use his new power to fight Madigan at every turn.
Blagojevich has sought to expand the power of his office ever since, and he has accelerated the pace since being re-elected in 2006. He has called umpteen special sessions merely as a tactic to publicly humiliate Madigan. He has abused his amendatory veto power to add radical proposals to legislation in order to put Madigan on the spot. He also has recently abused his power to issue executive orders in an attempt to cut off campaign contributions to the Democratic Party of Illinois, which Madigan controls.
All along, Senate President Emil Jones has used his own rock-solid control of the Senate to back Blagojevich’s every move. And Madigan has retaliated by stifling almost all legislative progress this year.
The power the three men have carved out for their respective offices likely will remain after they’re gone. That’s the thing about expansions of power - it’s a genie that’s almost impossible to put back into the bottle.
Every 20 years, Illinois voters are given the right to call for a constitutional convention. Delegates then are elected and voters have the final say about the endproduct. It’s a reasonable system,and we simply can’t wait another 20 years for change.
We essentially have an elected dictatorship of three men. Our only hope of breaking that stranglehold is a constitutional convention that can force democratic reforms on the process.
So please, vote “yes” this November on the constitutional convention.
I’ll propose some reform ideas in my next column.
* Scott Reeder of the Small Newspaper Group had the same idea for his column this week. Here’s an excerpt, but go read the whole thing…
The drafters of the state constitution wisely mandated that every 20 years the voters must vote on whether to call a constitutional convention. It’s the ultimate way voters can hold state government accountable.
I’ve heard some political insiders say the “crazies” would take over a constitutional convention and talk about guns, abortion and gays — and neglect everything else.
Gee, sometimes, democracy can be inconvenient.
Sometimes if you want your issue debated, you have to listen to someone else’s. Besides, a constitutional convention requires that any changes to the constitution be approved by voters.
Voters aren’t going to accept a constitution that drives jobs out the state through unreasonable business taxes or leaves retired folks without the pensions they earned.
Those asking you to vote against a constitutional convention would have you believe that a group of politicians in Springfield are more likely to bring reform – than you, the voters.
Don’t believe them.
Reform rests in your hands.
Vote yes, Nov. 7.
* This pro con-con letter to the editor is the very definition of strange bedfellows….
A review of the current system will clearly point out the basic flaws in the governing process in Springfield. Here are a few of the very obvious examples:
1) There is too much power vested in the four leaders, and individual General Assembly members have no say over the issues before them. This was caused by the ability to amass huge war chests by the leaders, which is then doled out to the willing members in exchange for compliance with the leaders requests. Term limits should apply to all leadership positions.
2) The governor’s office should not be able to rewrite legislation, change priorities clearly sent to the governor’s office by the legislature or misuse public dollars by punishing individual legislators or segments of the General Assembly.
There are other issues that can be reviewed and modified by the delegates elected to the 2010 Constitutional Convention, and I believe that a better system of governance can be established in Illinois.
Now is the time to act. The system is truly broken and it needs a total bipartisan review and overhaul.
The piece, which also appeared in the Tribune, was written by Al Ronan, former House member and bigtime Statehouse lobbyist.
* Officials: Wording of con-con referendum question biased
* Officials: Referendum words biased
* Debaters argue merits of convention
posted by Rich Miller
Tuesday, Sep 23, 08 @ 9:05 am
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