Some still fight for much-needed reforms
The following editorial appeared in the (Decatur) Herald & Review on Thursday, Feb. 24:
(MCT) — Give state Rep. Sidney Mathias points for perseverance.
Last week, the Arlington Heights Republican once again filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would limit the terms of legislative leaders.
It was promptly sent to the Rules Committee, where an identical bill languished last year. In fact, the House Rules Committee is often where legislation is sent to die a lingering death.
But we urge Mathias and others not to give up.
Under House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 36, the House speaker, Senate president and minority leaders in the House and Senate would be limited to a total of 10 years in any one office and a combined total of 14 years in two or more offices.
That is exactly the proposal supported nearly three years ago by the Illinois Reform Commission, the panel established by Gov. Pat Quinn shortly after he took office following the impeachment of Rod Blagojevich.
The report was issued to much fanfare in April 2009, and some of its recommendations were enacted. But others are long gone, if not forgotten.
We need people such as Mathias to keep reminding us of the need for these reforms.
The commission concluded “term limits on legislative leadership positions are necessary to restore public confidence in Illinois.” We agree.
The difficulty this measure and others have had in even reaching the floor for a vote is an example of the near dictatorial power exercised by legislative leaders.
Although the grip has been loosened slightly and rank-and-file members have been more involved in such matters as budget talks, the power wielded by the legislative leaders is enormous.
As stated in an editorial in May 2008, British historian Lord Acton wasn’t referring to the Illinois General Assembly when he wrote in 1887 that “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” but his observation certainly applies.
Less than 100 years later, in 1983, Michael Madigan became speaker of the Illinois House. He has been in that position almost continuously since then, the exception being two years serving as minority leader when Republicans were in power.
The Reform Commission report stated that “perpetual occupancy of these positions tends to give disproportionate power to a few politicians. This concentration of power disenfranchises the average voter ….”
The report further noted that “these leaders are able to determine the outcome of legislative races by controlling party funds, which could enable them to exchange campaign and other political support for legislative votes.”
Although reforms approved after the report placed limits on contributions from legislative leaders in primary races, there are no limits in general elections, even though individuals, businesses, unions and other associations are limited.
That’s another example of the legislative leaders crafting laws to benefit themselves.
If Illinois wants to change its reputation as a poorly run, corrupt state, reforms such as the one proposed by Mathias must receive support.