A constitutional convention could break the stranglehold
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 say you won't. 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. It's getting there.
I support a constitutional convention. And after 18 years of covering Illinois politics, I am not only convinced that a convention is necessary, I also believe I have a duty to tell you why.
Last week, I explained to you how our current 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. Here are ideas on how to break at least some of that stranglehold.
One of the biggest Statehouse problems is that legislative leaders can serve as long as they can get themselves reelected. 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 which 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 which 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.
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.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.