Monday was a really bad day
Days like Monday undermine the political process, and here's why.
Monday was just a regular day for normal people, the first day of a new work week.
But for the especially sick and twisted — those who run for public office in Illinois — Monday was a day of almost cosmic significance.
It was the last day of the candidate filing period — Nov. 25 to Dec. 2.
Those who had already filed and were waiting to see if they'd have an opponent for the upcoming primary can relax. State legislators, who have postponed action on a controversial state pension plan until today, don't have to worry about an unpopular vote generating primary opposition. Since the vast majority of Illinois House and Senate members run in districts gerrymandered to ensure their re-election, most of them will have two years either to repair any political damage or allow voters' memories to fade.
So Monday represents another political outrage in the Land of Lincoln, another way for the professional politicians to pull a fast one on the voters by rigging the game in advance.
Illinois has a November/December filing period because it has a March primary. But there's no need to hold a March primary for a November general election. The November election comes more than seven months after the March primary, creating an intolerably long and increasingly expensive general election season.
Why not schedule primary elections like they do in some other states — in May, June or even September?
The reason is that the early filing period and the early primary promote the interests of the political powers-that-be, mostly incumbents in both parties who want to discourage challengers.
The November/December filing period requires potential challengers to decide unreasonably early whether to take on the heavy load of a political campaign. They have to line up supporters and raise money at a time when most people aren't thinking about politics. Even more important, the early deciding period forced by the early filing period provides a shorter window for incumbents to do things that might stir opposition.
Take today's scheduled pension vote in Springfield. Public union leaders say they are outraged by the prospect of the bill passing and have threatened to oppose legislators, particularly Democrats and suburban Republicans, who support it.
But that's a pretty empty threat when they are blocked by the law from organizing primary opposition for recalcitrant Democrats or Republicans.
But it's not just the filing period that's a problem. So is the March primary.
It's frequently cold and nasty in March, the type of weather that discourages many people from showing up at the polls. It's each individual's responsibility to cast a ballot, but why should government make it harder, not easier, for people to vote? Aren't civic leaders constantly lamenting poor turnout?
A June primary in Illinois most likely would produce a pleasant, sunny day and increased numbers at the polls. But Democratic and Republican party bosses prefer low-turnout elections, the kind where their people vote and others do not. The March primary is a perfect vehicle to produce a low-turnout election. Then there's the seven-month general election campaign. Why is that a necessity? Actually, it's not. It's the inevitable result of a March primary and the November/December filing period.
The political bosses of Illinois aren't about to change the rules. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton like things just the way they are. The status quo helps them keep their members under their thumbs.
But the election schedule is a subtle disservice to the people of Illinois. It's one more reason why government in this state is such a disappointing failure. It explains, in part, why our elected representatives are more beholden to party leaders than to the voters who put them in office.