We need a new constitution to subdue the Big Three
There is a defect in Illinois' constitution which 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 which 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.
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 which stripped rank and file members of numerous basic rights. Those powers were now 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.
Over 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 them 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 Speaker 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.
The power that the three men have carved out for their respective offices will likely 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 are then elected and voters
have the final say over the end product. It's a reasonable system and
we simply can't wait another 20 years for change.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.