Capitol - Your Illinois News Radar

Latest Post | Last 10 Posts | Archives

Previous Post: Quinn muffed it again
Next Post: Kelly announces bid

Beware the reformers

Posted in:

* You certainly can’t blame all of our problems on Pat Quinn’s infamous “Cutback Amendment,” but it is a case study in why reformers can sometimes do more harm than good and should never be thought of as having all the answers…

The Illinois governor ultimately responsible for many of the state’s current ethics woes may not be Rod Blagojevich or even the imprisoned George Ryan. He may be Pat Quinn.

While Blagojevich’s rampant political corruption during six years as Illinois’ governor led to his arrest, ouster, indictment and now widespread calls for reform, some experts argue the structure of state government that has led to entrenched leadership and a lack of electoral competition has its origins during an earlier burst of state government reform, led by none other than Quinn.

In 1979 and 1980, Quinn was a good-government activist leading the charge for the “Cutback Amendment,” which reduced the size of the Illinois House by one-third and ended so-called cumulative voting in Illinois. Quinn and other proponents claimed cutting the size of the legislature would save the state money and lead to more competitive elections.

Most of our serious corruption problems in state government (as measured by federal action) have been at the executive level. Four disgraced former governors, Secretary of State Paul Powell’s shoe box, Attorney General Bill Scott’s slush fund. etc. You can’t blame any of that on the Cutback Amendment.

* The real problem with the Cutback Amendment is the consolidation of power by the House Speaker…

Filling a vacant U.S. Senate seat. Providing tax relief. Blocking legislative raises. Improving government efficiency. What do they have in common? A single lawmaker blocked every one of those ideas from being debated in the Illinois House.

Under the House’s strange rules, an objection from just one lawmaker will kill any effort to release legislation that has been bottled up in committee, no matter how many other people support the idea.

So Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie — the No. 2 Democrat in the House — is charged with standing up and objecting when Republicans file motions to release bills they feel should be debated.

The objection itself doesn’t kill the motion. The objection is usually voted on by the full chamber, almost always on a partisan roll call.

Still, it was the Senate Republicans who invented those rules when they were in charge, and the Cutback Amendment only dealt with the House. You can’t completely blame this problem totally on Quinn, either - although the SGOPs adopted the rules because they were proceeding to a “war footing” with Madigan’s tightly controlled House.

But, again, always beware reformers bearing “truth.”

* Related…

* Video poker puts its chips on Mike Madigan

* SJ-R Opinion: Approval of FOIA rewrite a must

* Term Lmiits for Legislative Leaders

* Backers of Accountability Portal already planning expansion

posted by Rich Miller
Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 10:32 am


  1. But, again, always beware reformers bearing “truth.”

    um, don’t you mean, beware MSM (AP, Pantagraph, Herald) bearing “truth?”

    Comment by moron Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 10:59 am

  2. We lost Blago and Emil. Madigan is the only one left. If they cannot come to an agreement, everything points to Madigan as the person that has prevented the Democarats from getting things done while they are in power.

    Term limits are a great idea for all offices. The old argument that voters put the term limit on is garbage. I be if you put the term limit to a vote by the public it would pass hands down. But we will never see that.

    Reform is a good thing, but the problem is we are allowing the inmates to reform the prison. Legislators will not do the right thing if it will hurt their chances to be re-elected, it is a HUGE conflict of interest. The reform we see will be window dressing only. NOT real substance.

    Comment by He Makes Ryan Look Like a Saint Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 11:04 am

  3. Ah,

    …for the days when an ordinary member could file a motion to overturn the chair and win.

    …for when a majority vote could discharge any bill.

    …for when any member could file an amendment and it had to be voted upon before the bill could move to final passage.

    Some of those could occur as recently as 1994.

    Comment by Cal Skinner Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 11:19 am

  4. –* The real problem with the Cutback Amendment is the consolidation of power by the House Speaker…–

    It makes you wonder if back in 1980, when Madigan was loudly opposing the amendment and questioning Quinn’s Irishness over his support, there was a little voice in MJMs head saying “this is going to be great!”

    Comment by wordslinger Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 11:35 am

  5. too often reform is nothing more then the idea if we have x, then refomr means we change it to Y.

    The first question we shold ask is looking at corruption cases in the US, which incident would have been prevented by changing x to y. If the anser is none, then we need to consider does the hrudle we are erecting just serve to keep out possible canidates? Our campaign finance laws are becoming so technical that we are disenfranchisng potentialy good canidates who dread trying to figure them out or becoming empailed on technical requirements of the rules governeing ballot access and finance.

    We need to getaway from making rules and changing rules as fell good measure and look at real substantive issues. Consider this, if the speakers or senate presidents power is so odious, why have they not easily been defeated in elections? is it really a bad thing the the flood of talking point bills the GOP wanted to call were stopped? Do we really want the house and senate to be subject to filibuster style bill calling blizzards by the out of power party?

    Comment by Ghost Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 11:36 am

  6. Rich, just to clarify the history a bit here. Madigan’s House may have been a bit “tightly controlled” in 1990 when the SGOP adopted their anti-democratic rules, but Madigan’s control was just by the power of his personality and organization, not the rules. The anti-democratic rules in the House originated with Lee Daniels in 1992 during his 2-year stint as Speaker. He didn’t need them to somehow offset Madigan’s “tight control”. It was a power grab, pure and simple. Madigan simply kept them after he knocked Daniels off.

    Comment by Anonymous Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 11:59 am

  7. ===The anti-democratic rules in the House originated with Lee Daniels in 1992 during his 2-year stint as Speaker.===


    The rules originated in the Senate in 1993. Daniels adopted them in 1995.

    Comment by Rich Miller Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 12:05 pm

  8. It’s a little off topic, but as I was browsing the linked articles, I came across this gem in Hinz’s piece: ==Today’s bag is a pending bill that would legalize video poker in tens of thousands of Illinois bars and restaurants. Though no such plan was even being discussed a few weeks ago, all of a sudden it appears to be on the fast track to passage.==

    Where has he been? As HB 4239, it was bopping around the House through the month of March, got co-sponsors, amendments, unanimous committee approval, and made it to a second reading. It was discussed on this blog months ago and got two mentions in the May “Illinois Issues.” I don’t hang around the capitol building or even Springfield, but I knew it was an active issue this session back in March.

    Why do I bring this up? If I’m to take the rest of his article seriously, the up front stuff should be accurate.

    Comment by Pot calling kettle Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 12:29 pm

  9. You’re right on the dates, of course, Rich. But the point’s the same - SGOP originated the rules as a pure power grab under Philip. Madigan did NOT respond in kind at the time. HGOP copied 2 years later and emasculated the Democratics in the House. Two years later, Madigan kept the rules in place. So Republicans whining today is pretty hollow.

    Comment by Anonymous Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 12:41 pm

  10. ===So Republicans whining today is pretty hollow.===

    True to a point. I’m kinda tired of watching people fight the same old battles for 15, 20, 30 years, however. You started it, no you did, no you did, no you did. You can take that all the way back to 1818 if you wanted.

    Comment by Rich Miller Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 12:46 pm

  11. I remember debating Pat Quinn at Sangamon State on the “cut-back” amendment. The State of Illinois out reformed itself.

    Comment by Agent 99 Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 12:48 pm

  12. Besides Skinner’s yearning for the nonsense of the past…..lots of motion, but no real accomplishments…could someone offer an example of all of this led IL to become less of a Garden of Eden? Or tell how these changes would have made IL an even bigger GofE?

    Comment by EmptySuitParade Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 1:13 pm

  13. The Hatfield/McCoy feud over who started what rules and when is interesting on a historical basis, but how do these rules serve the citizens of Illinois? Isn’t that the question that really should be asked?

    I have been on record in the past for expanding the legislature as part of diluting the power of the leadership. That includes increasing the number of Senatorial Districts. The cost of additional legislators would be minimal compared to the positives of diluting legislative leadership powers. This would need additional reforms of limiting “transfers” from one fund to another (i.e. Madigan to Karen May as just an example) and ending gerrymandering when redistricting. I know my positions are not popular with nearly everyone, but as someone who is of Spartan Greek heritage, fighting alone or against impossible odds is ingrained within my DNA.

    I have always felt the “Quinn cutback” in the State House hurt the State in the long run. When you think of it, it would be seem to be easier tp pass a tax increase under the “old” system of three member districts.

    When I would ask the late Senator Geo-Karis what changed most over her 30+ years in the Illinois Senate, she would always quickly respond (1) that she represented nearly double the number of constituents she had when she was first elected), making constituent services more time consuming, and (2) the replacing of civility with partisanship in Springfield.

    Comment by Louis G. Atsaves Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 1:24 pm

  14. Once again, I recall Mike Royko’s (paraphrased)
    warning: “Save us from the Reformers”
    Beware of those who cloak themselves in self-righteous do-gooderism….your wallet is at risk.

    Comment by You Go Boy Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 2:54 pm

  15. I might add to Mike’s sentiment: Hypocricy is at risk without the tireless efforts of reformers.

    Comment by You Go Boy Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 3:02 pm

  16. I had really hoped that quinn was going to change the face of illinois politics. with obama no longer representing us in the senate, it seems that liable illinois politicians are few and far between.

    Comment by CC425 Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 4:04 pm

  17. This is the best title you have ever had, Rich. I often say, when the reformers come, watch out. Things wind up worse than they were before.

    Ryan/Saint guy: re term limits. I am currently doing my master’s thesis on legislative term limits. There is a whole bunch of independent academic research which shows that in every single state that has implimented term limits, power has shifted to the executive branch and to unelected people like staffers and lobbyists.

    May I suggest the following book: Legislating Without Experience: Case Studies in State Legislative Term Limits. One of the contributors is Illinois own Chris Mooney.

    Just take a look at one or two of the case studies, then come back and tell me what you think of the idea.

    In essance, legislators are even more unaccountable and are unable to perform their role as a check on the governor.

    Comment by this old hack Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 5:40 pm

  18. Louis, since Geo was first elected to the Illinois House, when she moved to the Senate she did in fact represent twice as many people.

    Comment by Frank Booth Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 7:35 pm

  19. –True to a point. I’m kinda tired of watching people fight the same old battles for 15, 20, 30 years, however. You started it, no you did, no you did, no you did. You can take that all the way back to 1818 if you wanted.–

    Hear, hear.

    Madigan, obviously, for decades, has been the smartest banana in the bunch. And by now, he’s beaten everyone, and his Springfield legend is secure.

    So now, like Mike Lawrence said over the weekend, what we need is for the smartest one in the room — and the most powerful as well — to step up and provide real leadership for the state at this time of crisis.

    MJM, it’s on you, brother.

    Comment by wordslinger Tuesday, May 19, 09 @ 8:39 pm

Add a comment

Sorry, comments are closed at this time.

Previous Post: Quinn muffed it again
Next Post: Kelly announces bid

Last 10 posts:

more Posts (Archives)

WordPress Mobile Edition available at

powered by WordPress.