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Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008 06:50 pm

We can’t afford not to hold a constitutional convention

The pricetag and our state's failed politics appear to be the two biggest arguments against holding a constitutional convention.

Every 20 years, Illinois voters are given the right to call a constitutional convention. I want you to vote "Yes," but various interest groups are spending millions to convince you to vote "No."

The "Vote No" ads claim the projected cost of holding a convention is too high, especially considering that the state is running a horrific budget deficit.

They aren't telling you something.

1) The state constitution itself is partially responsible for our current budget problems because glaring loopholes allow politicians to ignore balanced budget "requirements."

2) Most of the interest groups opposing a constitutional convention are themselves responsible for our budget situation. They've pushed countless tax breaks and spending increases.

We can't afford not to call a convention.

Another argument against a constitutional convention is: "The same politicians who got us into this mess will be the ones controlling a convention."

Right now, both political parties in the Illinois House are stretching themselves to the limit over eight House campaigns. They've dumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into those races and are struggling to find the money from interest groups to continue the pace.

So, if the powers that be are straining to control the outcome of eight races, how can they control a process that will elect 118 constitutional convention delegates at once?

Legislators will be allowed to run for delegate, but they can't be paid for both jobs at the same time, which will likely discourage most of them from seeking the position.

The Chicago machine will certainly become involved, but recent prison terms for Daley's former patronage chieftains have hobbled the organization. Besides, the machine elected delegates to the last convention 38 years ago (at the height of the organization's power and strength), but the hacks failed to exert much influence because they simply didn't care enough about policy. That hasn't changed.

Constitutional convention delegate campaigns have historically attracted large numbers of young, smart, issue-oriented candidates, not just in Illinois but all over the country. Also, never forget that voters get the final say on the convention's finished product via referendum.

"But what about the stupidity of Illinois voters?" some ask, pointing to Gov. Rod Blagojevich and Cook County Board President Todd Stroger as examples of the danger of putting such an important decision into the hands of clueless voters.

If Rod and Todd were wildly popular today I would agree with that analysis. Instead, they are two of the most despised politicians in all of Illinois history. The overwhelming majority of voters clearly regret those decisions, and I think they've learned from their mistakes.

If you want to stop state politicians from running multi-billion-dollar deficits, then vote to spend a relatively paltry sum to hold a constitutional convention.

If you are afraid of the voters, well, you might as well just move somewhere else because you'll be stuck with their choices for legislators and statewide officials for the rest of your life.

If you don't want any change, then vote "No."

I can't promise you massive amounts of change if we do get a constitutional convention. I can promise, however, that nothing will change without one. Please, vote "Yes."

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.

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