Division of power

Division of power

No single person has been, is now or ever will be in charge of the state of Illinois, and it's a darn good thing.

Gov. Bruce Rauner stirred up another rhetorical hornet's nest last week when, in an emotional exchange with reporters, he spoke with frustration about his inability to implement some programs he believes would boost the state's economy, lower property taxes and create term limits for state legislators.

"Illinois would be on a great future ... if I was in charge. I am not in charge. I'm trying to get to be in charge," he said.

Then Rauner, as is his custom, identified House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has blocked almost the entire Rauner agenda, as the source of Illinois' problems.

"We've been in a state controlled by one person, one person, for 35 years. And until that changes, we don't have a good future," Rauner said of the 75-year-old Chicago Democrat.

Given that Illinois is on the verge of an election year, and Rauner has an opponent in the March primary and a slew of Democrats who'd like to win his job in the November general election, reaction was as swift as it was demeaning.

"If (Rauner) is not in charge, we'd better find out who is," said Steve Brown, who answers the questions posed to Madigan.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, the Republican House member from Wheaton who is challenging the governor in the GOP primary, asserted that if she's elected governor, she'll be in charge of the state.

"Rauner says he's not in charge in Springfield. I am ready to lead the charge in Springfield," Ives tweeted.

The political folderol generated by Rauner's comment is no surprise. Election rhetoric is aimed at hitting emotional hot spots, and most, if not all, politicians know how to play that game, Rauner included.

It's one reason why he aims most of his attacks at the deeply unpopular but tremendously powerful Madigan. It's the same reason that Democratic gubernatorial frontrunner J.B. Pritzer spends a lot of time talking about how much he dislikes Republican President Donald Trump.

The names of both Madigan and Trump touch nerves in the voting population, and Rauner and Pritzker think they can profit politically by making their targets the face of the opposition.

OK, fine. That's how the game is played.

But that does not have to reflect the public discussion generated by less partisan commenters.

So let's be clear about Rauner's statement that he's not in charge of Illinois and that Madigan is.

The governor is half right. Rauner is not in charge of the state, but neither is Madigan.

Both certainly would like to be. Under the separation of powers, neither ever will be.

Federal and state government in this country is based on a system of checks and balances designed to protect the people from the abuse of power — executive, legislative and judicial branches who have their own individual duties.

As the state's chief executive, Rauner is in charge of the executive branch.

As House Speaker, Madigan is one of many legislators who control the House and Senate, although he has acquired, through a variety of astute maneuvers, outsized influence that makes him the go-to guy in the General Assembly.

As for the judiciary, it's managed by the seven members of the Illinois Supreme Court, and power is devolved from the high court to the appellate and trial courts.

No one is in charge because the Founding Fathers realized that no single individual — like, say, the king of England — can be trusted to exercise such vast power in a way that does not threaten the liberty of the people.

Perhaps Rauner wasn't thinking exactly in those terms when he referred to his inability to compel Madigan and the Democratic legislators to do that which they do not wish to do. But his point is no less valid.

Government in Illinois relies on cooperation between the executive and the legislative branches, something that's been urged on Rauner and Madigan since the voters elected a divided government in November 2014.

The two men obviously could not agree on a state budget, among other things, and a two-year standoff ensued, each betting the other would eventually cave.

Rauner lost that battle when enough legislative Republicans surrendered to Madigan on the budget issue and the speaker was able to override Rauner's veto of a state income-tax increase and the Democrats' version of the budget.

That series of events made amply clear how power is apportioned under the democratic process — by design, no one person is in charge, should be in charge or ever could be in charge of Illinois.

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