Put lame ducks out of business

Put lame ducks out of business

Political accountability is non-existent when legislators use gamesmanship to escape answering to the voters.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin this week proposed a great idea that doesn't have a chance of becoming law.

Why not? Durkin's proposal to put an end to post-election, lame-duck legislative sessions that allow members of the House and Senate to pass laws they'd be reluctant to support pre-election just makes too much sense.

Legislators like to claim they are accountable to the public and, at least theoretically, they are. But in the real world, they work assiduously to avoid real accountability. Because of gerrymandered House and Senate districts, structured roll calls and lame-duck sessions, they are practically beyond the reach of the voters.

To understand the issue, however, one first has to understand the game.

Lame-duck sessions are held after November general elections; the lame ducks are the members of the old Legislature who still retain power but will be replaced by the newly elected Legislature scheduled to be sworn the following January.

Many lame-duck legislators are re-elected, but others are either defeated or opt not to run for re-election. No longer having to face the voters or not having to run again, legislators use the lame-duck session to pass bills they'd be less likely to pass pre-election.

Lame ducks for many years voted to raise legislative pay. In the January 2011 lame-duck session, they passed dramatic increases in the state's personal and corporate income tax. There's speculation now that legislators will wait until after the November 2014 election either to extend or make permanent the 2011 tax increase.

Durkin's proposal calls for passing a constitutional amendment to swear in the new Legislature a month after the election rather than wait until the second week in January. It also would restrict the ability of the outgoing Legislature to hold lame-duck sessions between the election and swearing-in day by requiring the unanimous approval of the governor and all four legislative leaders for an emergency session.

It would effectively end government by lame duck, thereby increasing legislators' accountability to the voters.

That, of course, is exactly why this is a great idea whose time has not — and may never — come.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, said Madigan will review the proposal but asked "why you want to tie the Legislature's hands."

This wouldn't restrict legislative power — it would merely shift it from the lame-duck Legislature to the new one, thereby ending government by skullduggery that frustrates the public will and empowers self-interested politicians. Unfortunately, self-interested legislators like the status quo and won't support a change.

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sacrophyte wrote on February 06, 2014 at 9:02 am

How? How do "normal" people put lame ducks out of business? How do we raise a sufficient outcry from an otherwise apathetic electorate in such a way that old, crusty ways of politics are scraped away?

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 06, 2014 at 12:02 pm

Radicalize the youth.  Show them what to expect politically during their life times.  Teach civil disobedience.  Encourage third parties.  Purge the existing party leaders. Address constant corruption, special interests, and pork barrel spending via digital communication leading to timely demonstrations.  Change the image of the state from one of apathetic citizens to one of demanding citizens.  Change in Illinois politics will not come from the federal government.  It will have to come from within the state.  When the citizens lose all hope in the future, change will start.  It will be slow intially; but it will excelerate as times get worse.  Illinois will change when it gets bad enough.

Wonder why Mr. Fuddles does not like to release his travel schedule for all to see?  Expect more ads versus face-to-face campaigning in the future.  Heck, we may end up with a virtual candidate in the future.  "Governor Max Headroom in 2030 !"  At least, Rauner came to town so he must be real....   

sweet caroline wrote on February 06, 2014 at 3:02 pm

Sid, why don't YOU run for office?  You have good ideas.

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 06, 2014 at 4:02 pm

What a nasty question.  Professional politicians as an occupational group rank lower than drug pushers in my view.  Why do candidates spend the money, and accept the public noteriaty to do their civic duty?  The cynical, and experienced citizens know why.  I came of age during the '60's.  Since that time, I have lost all faith in the American political system.  I have lost all faith in gradual social change also.  I am leaning more, and more toward a parliamentary form of government established by rapid social change.  Time is on my side.  Yes, it is.