Amendments problem for pols
Next year's election in Illinois has the potential to be a game-changer for the permanent political class in both political parties.
Chicago-area businessman Bruce Rauner may or may not be the best candidate to represent the Republican Party in the 2014 election for governor of Illinois.
He's a newcomer to politics, and his three rivals for the GOP nomination — state Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady — have vast experience in government and public life.
But so far Rauner has enunciated the most attractive platform of any gubernatorial candidate from either party — he wants to smash the political status quo by ousting traditional powers from control of state government. Last week, he took another step in that direction by unveiling a term-limits proposal that would turn the status quo upside down.
Rauner's term limits plan and another that would establish a nonpartisan process for drawing legislative district lines for the state House and Senate, known as the fair map proposal, can be expected to draw howls of protests from the political establishment. They're right to be afraid.
We've written a good deal about the importance of establishing a nonpartisan legislative map-drawing process in Illinois. It's the difference between having legislative elections that are rigged in advance or allowing voters the actual opportunity to vote in a competitive election.
That's a no-brainer in our book, even if the self-serving professional politicians are aghast at the idea of the public usurping their power and dismantling their fiefdoms.
Rauner's term limits plan is a little different. It's not necessarily a good idea, but it's certainly a worthy subject for voter discussion.
Both plans face high hurdles because they require passing a constitutional amendment to become law.
That means backers of the fair map and term limits proposals will first have to gather sufficient petition signatures (roughly 300,000 for each proposal) to qualify for a ballot spot. Then they'll have to face legal challenges from foes trying to knock them off the ballot. Finally, the proposals will have to attract an extraordinary majority at the ballot box to become law.
Term limits have been attempted before in Illinois. In 1994, Gov. Pat Quinn led a term limits plan, but it was rejected by the Illinois Supreme Court because it did not meet a state constitutional requirement of making a "structural or procedural" change in the General Assembly.
Rauner tries to meet that requirement with a three-part proposal.
— Limit legislators to serving a maximum of eight years in office.
— Shrink the size of the state Senate from 59 members to 41 and slightly increase the size of the state House from 118 to 123 members.
— Increase the number of votes required to overturn a gubernatorial veto from a three-fifths majority in both houses to a two-thirds majority.
Critics already have charged that Rauner is using the proposed term-limit amendment as a gimmick to give his gubernatorial campaign a boost. Sen. Dillard charged that Rauner is using "Pat Quinn populism" to appeal to voters' resentments against the political class. He insists that Rauner's plan would not solve the state's problems.
Dillard may well be correct that Rauner's proposal is a gimmick, but it's a gimmick that has substance to it. And Dillard is certainly correct that no procedural change in legislative function will solve the state's multitude of problems. It would, however, send a message that the voters are tired of the dysfunctional status quo and ready to make big changes unless improvement is forthcoming.
As for the claim that Rauner is borrowing a page from Gov. Quinn's populist campaign plan, there's no doubt about it. Rauner is appealing to voter resentment toward state government, and he's right to do so.
Illinois voters have much to resent about how state government functions. Indeed, one would have to be the soul of patience not to resent the whole kit and kaboodle of our politicians and their profligate, incompetent and corrupt way of doing business.
Winning elections is about identifying voters' resentments and identifying solutions to assuage them. Rauner argues his term-limit plan is one way of achieving that goal. Let the campaign begin.