It's been interesting to contrast the ideas that have come out of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Reform Commission and the ideas that have popped out of the governor’s own mouth. Quinn’s musings have been a bit loopy.
It's been interesting to contrast the ideas that have come out of Gov. Pat Quinn’s Illinois Reform Commission and the ideas that have popped out of the governor’s own mouth.
Generally, the commission’s ideas, which include campaign contribution limits, instant disclosure of large donations and allowing local law enforcement to wiretap in corruption investigations, have been well thought out.
Quinn’s musings — specifically, mail-in voting, term limits and the suggestion that elected officials donate the balance of their campaign contributions to charity — have been a bit loopy:
Mail-in voting might be a good idea if Illinois was Wisconsin and our political culture understood that the corruption here is both systemic and a national embarrassment. But despite all the speechifying that happened on the day of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s removal from office and the reform rhetoric emanating from the Capitol since, we worry the Statehouse crowd will do the bare minimum when it comes to reform.
Mail-in voting has worked well in Oregon and Washington state. Those also are not states whose histories are stained with allegations of stolen elections and other corruption.
Ask yourself, do you trust today’s Illinois politicians to competently administer an election via mail and for it to be free of hijinks and chicanery?
Besides, Illinois recently implemented early voting, which added a great deal of convenience. How easy must voting be? Shouldn’t there be some extra effort required, if only to emphasize the importance of this right?
Before fully embracing term limits, we hope Quinn looks at California and Ohio, where term limits have been an abject failure.
Like tight-rolled jeans, term limits are a 1990s fad. Unfortunately, voters still love them, but lawmakers here have wisely resisted. They ensure gridlock, shortsighted lawmaking and a lack of institutional knowledge by elected officials.
The premise — cycling out entrenched lawmakers each decade to ensure fresh faces and perspectives — seems like a good one on its face.
Here’s the reality: The old bulls you thought you had gotten rid of then become lobbyists, who are unelected and unaccountable. They use their knowledge, influence and hefty campaign donation budget to manipulate the process and the new, naïve legislators who have replaced them. It’s like they never left. And since term limiting a lobbyist would probably violate their constitutional rights, they never will.
As much as the public loves to pillory legislators (don’t get us wrong, the criticism often is deserved), they have a difficult job that requires them to understand a variety of complex issues and navigate a difficult process. Like any job, it takes awhile to get good at it.
A better way to ensure turnover amongst lawmakers is to change Illinois’ ridiculous redistricting procedure. Currently, if legislators and the governor cannot agree on a new map after every Census, an evenly divided, legislatively appointed commission is supposed to draw it. The framers thought that requirement would ensure an agreement crafted by both parties. They were wrong; in the last three censuses, it has not.
The resulting gridlock triggers a provision that allows the party that wins a lottery to draw the legislative map. Redistricting has turned into an incumbent-protection racket as politicians pick their voters and punish the opposing party.
A system like Iowa’s, in which a computer model draws truly compact districts based on population, not politics, could ensure more competitive elections and turnover and have the virtue of not dumping the entire legislature’s knowledge all at once. Quinn should try to stoke voter demand for such a proposal.
Campaign fund giveback
Lastly, Quinn proposed that elected officials donate their campaign funds to charity and start over in the event campaign finance limits are passed. What a silly farce. It’ll never happen and isn’t worth the pixels or ink required for further discussion.