For too long, the Illinois political class has been unable or unwilling to clean up corruption in government. All too often, the people have felt powerless to do anything about it because the system, by design, has been stacked against them.
This has eroded confidence in government and left people numb to the all-too-common stories of investigations and indictments that seem to fill our news cycles constantly. It’s well past time that we work toward giving power back to the people that government is supposed to be serving.
If we look to other states for inspiration, we see that many have strong recall provisions that allow the people to actually follow through with the proverbial act of “throwing the bums out.” Illinois’ recall provision applies only to the governor, and includes a requirement that the public obtain permission from a bipartisan group of legislators before proceeding. It’s a recall provision in name only and is nearly impossible to use.
Further, Illinoisans have no ability to recall lawmakers, appointed statewide positions or local officials. We don’t believe that democracy is well served by denying the people this important power.
To remedy the situation, we are proposing three amendments to the Illinois constitution, which will allow voters to decide whether to empower themselves with strong recall provisions.
The first amendment would expand recall to all statewide constitutional officers, speaker of the House, Senate president and auditor general. Petitions to launch a recall election would require signatures equal to 12 percent of the votes cast for governor in the preceding election.
Our second amendment would create a similar recall provision for members of the General Assembly and require signatures equal to 12 percent of the votes cast for governor in the targeted legislative district during the previous election.
Finally, we would expand recall provisions to local offices as well, with a sliding scale for signature requirements based on the population of the targeted office’s district.
In all three cases, if a recall petition were successful, it would require 60 percent voters to approve removing the elected official from office, and once removed, that official would be ineligible to serve in the office for 10 years.
Opponents of recall claim it is an excess of democracy and will lead to abuse. We disagree wholeheartedly. Given the many challenges facing Illinois today and our state’s well-known reputation for corruption, we think Illinois voters deserve more control over public officials who do not represent our state’s best interests. Our proposals include safeguards to protect from abuse and hold public officials accountable to the citizens they are supposed to serve.
As an example, consider the current speaker of the House, Michael J. Madigan. He is regularly referred to as the most powerful elected official in Illinois. He has been referred to by national media as the most powerful state House speaker in the country. While he exerts considerable influence and authority over the entire state, most voters have very little voice as to who serves in that role. With the current partisan makeup of the chamber, people who live in Republican districts have zero say in the selection.
Madigan is also at the center of a major corruption investigation that has already led to indictments for many in his inner circle. For these reasons and others, polling often shows him to be one of the least popular elected officials in the entire state. Yet he has served for decades and is currently the longest-serving state House speaker in the nation, having held the position for all but two years since 1983.
Meanwhile, Madigan’s caucus members are meeting behind closed doors to decide whether he will continue to serve as the speaker during the next General Assembly. There is no public vetting of this process, and the House members who will make the final decision will not face the voters in an election for two more years.
This is a perfect example
of exactly why voters often feel so powerless in what is happening with their government. It is long past due to give the people the power they deserve, to be able to hold elected officials accountable. Our recall proposals would put the political class on notice that they can and will be removed if they choose to take part in the types of corruption that have defined our state for so long.