Editorial | Rauner's revisions rile up the Democrats

Editorial | Rauner's revisions rile up the Democrats

Partisan skirmishing continues in Springfield.

In rewriting a gun-control bill to reinstate the death penalty in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner is fighting fire with fire. Or, to put it another way, politics with politics.

The Democratic-controlled Legislature sent Rauner a gun-control bill to put him on the hot seat. Now, he's done the same to them with his amendatory veto that reinstates the death penalty in cases where more than one person or a police officer is killed.

Don't worry about all of the partisan caterwauling over this legislation — it's not going anywhere. It's just tit for tat to score political points — Democrats reassuring their political voters of their enthusiastic support for gun control while Rauner tries to lure disaffected conservatives back to his fold.

If only our elected officials devoted as much time to policy as they do politics, an obviously plaintive cry destined to fall on deaf ears.

But to give Rauner's action more credit than it deserves, let's consider what purports to be a dramatic shift in public policy.

Serious matters like this ought not be addressed by gubernatorial amendatory vetoes.

If Illinois is going to reinstate the death penalty, it ought to be done after a serious discussion of the issue in the Legislature. That assumes, of course, that the General Assembly is capable of a serious discussion of any issue, a substantial leap of logic. At any rate, it ought to be done thoughtfully, not by a back-door maneuver.

This is not the first time Illinois' top officials have acted with politically motivated haste on the death penalty.

After all, it was a lame-duck Legislature in the aftermath of the 2010 election that voted to repeal the death penalty in Illinois. The suspicious timing was purposeful in that outgoing legislators, many of whom had previously expressed support for the death penalty, voted for repeal knowing they would never have to account to voters.

In terms of substance, Rauner's legislative language also is problematic. To avoid wrongful conviction, it establishes a legal eligibility standard of "beyond all doubt" that eclipses the traditional standard of beyond a reasonable doubt. One could see that phrase being litigated ad infinitum in the courts.

Illinois adopted the death penalty because, theoretically at least, it's an appropriate penalty for the worst of the worst. But it repealed the death penalty because the process by which it was imposed was too prone to irreversible error, an intolerable circumstance in the criminal-justice system.

How many cases of wrongful convictions did Illinois endure as a result of flaws in the system that showed up time and again? Too many!

But that's policy. Rauner's amendatory veto is about politics.

In that respect, it's a clever move. He took a bill that established a 72-hour waiting period, increased from 24 hours, to buy a military-style rifle.

Rather than sign it, he rewrote it to include the death penalty and a ban on bump stocks, creating a tableau intended to give something to gun-control opponents, gun-control proponents and those tough on crime.

The bill now goes back to the Legislature, where state Rep. Jonathan Carroll complained that the governor "hijacked my bill."

Of course he did. Now Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, who despises the governor's amendatory-veto power, will hijack Rauner's amendatory veto.

Madigan's past practices include not allowing votes on amendatory vetoes. Whether he does that this time remains to be seen. But the rewritten version is not going to pass. The original version probably won't either. In the end, both sides will get a political issue, which is what this has been all about from the get-go.

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