Term limits are popular with people and there is no doubt about that. Many don’t like either the US Congress or our IL General Assembly as a whole which helps fuel support for term limits. While term limits on the surface are a good idea, underneath it all there remains problems that term limits cannot solve.
When someone gets elected to the IL General Assembly – or Congress for that matter – chances are they will be re-elected for years afterwards & will only find their way out of office by retirement or resignation due to corruption or being handed a cushy government agency job. Sure, there are instances where a seat changes hands due to redistricting as a whole, redistricting to create a split district politically or there is a wave of voter discontent as evidenced by the Tea Party movement in 2010.
I’m not sure when an elected official crosses the line to becoming entrenched in office. It would seem some would say 8 years. I don’t quite understand how one derives a useful political life is 8 years like some kind of Logan’s Run Carrousel scenario. But what happens at the end of those 8 years?
Changing the person in office doesn’t mean the voters will get somebody completely different politically – or even less “corrupt”. That is a major flaw in term limits. Plus, what stops a lame duck legislator(s) from voting for whatever they want in the last part of their outgoing, term limited time in office? A conscience? Doubtful. We’ve seen that lack of conscience during other lame duck sessions of the General Assembly.
Besides, elections are the ultimate term limit decider…but more on that a little later.
Redistricting/restructuring the General Assembly is also being proposed. The current idea is to lower the number of State Senators & increase the number of State Representatives. Downstate will be the loser in this proposal. My State Senate district, the 54th, already stretches from Madison County down to Washington County over to Effingham then south to Marion County. The 55th Senate District already stretches from Coles County all the way down to White County. How will expanding the size of the State Senate districts make those districts more representative of the people or make those holding that office more accountable? It won’t on both accounts.
The other provision suggested to reform the General Assembly by changing the vote from 3/5ths to 2/3rds to override a Governor’s veto. I have mixed feelings on this issue. On one side, it allows the Governor to be a true check on the Illinois legislature & the veto override was once set at 2/3rds during at least one previous incarnation of the Illinois Constitution. At the same time, Illinois has a history in populism (Jacksonian populism/democracy, Grangers movement, etc) that has traditionally kept the General Assembly as one of the strongest branches of the Illinois government & those past incarnations of the Illinois Constitution are proof. A move back to a 2/3rds required vote to override a veto would weaken the General Assembly against a Governor who would use the veto power often. Additionally, not every measure passed by the General Assembly is veto proof – even in the Democrat super-majority in the General Assembly now so the chances of a veto being overridden would diminish.
Ultimately, the power to change the Illinois government doesn’t lie with the legislature, the judiciary or the executive branch. It doesn’t even lie with a referendum to change the Illinois Constitution. It certainly doesn’t lie with any candidate or non-candidate promising to be a reformer like some conservative political prophet. The power to change Illinois government lies within one office & one office only – the Precinct Committeeman.
The gripes about term limits are really rooted at angst against political power & who possess that political power. We falsely lay that power on elected officials (leadership positions aside for the sake of this argument). The reason why the higher ups, the “establishment”, the “insiders”, whatever you want to call them, have the power is because we allow them to have it – because we choose to leave our precincts empty.
I’m sure you are like me & have received emails from candidates asking your help to sign and/or get signatures for their petitions so they can appear on the ballot this upcoming Primary election. Have you received the same email from your party “leadership” about finding people to run for Precinct Committeeman? How about an email reminding you to pick up your petition & get it signed to re-run as a Precinct Committeeman? No? Me either. Perhaps that’s because these same people know that the actual power to change anything lies within the Precinct Committeemen.
The ELECTED (not appointed) Precinct Committeeman gets to vote on who the Chairman of the county party will be for the next 2 years. Why is that important? Because having the right (figuratively & literally) Chairman can help decide the direction of the county & state parties & office holders. As an example, imagine if there were a majority of conservative Chairmen in the room when they decided to pick Rodney Davis over Erika Harold to replace US Rep. Tim Johnson on the ballot. Do you think outcome of that pow-wow would have been the same?
In addition, the Precinct Committeeman gets to vote on who represents their Congressional district on the State Central Committee, who as we should know by now, selects the next Chairman of the state party – who then in turn sets the direction of the state party.
Lastly, but certainly not least important, the Precinct Committeemen are the ones who help get candidates elected (or defeated) by leading the door-to-door, get-out-the-vote campaigns. They also do what they can to increase voter-turnout of their candidate of choice to get that person re-elected or get somebody defeated in the next election. Getting people to vote. Now there’s your term limits.
If you want term limits by throwing out the bad politicians, if you want to change your party from the ground up & if you want to really change Illinois government to being more responsive & more responsible then recruit others and run yourself as to make sure there are conservative Precinct Committeemen on the ballot this spring. Outside of Cook County, it takes just 10 signatures of registered party voters in your precinct to get on the ballot to be a Precinct Committeeman. Just 10 voters’ signatures to be elected to the single most powerful office in Illinois. 10 signatures to begin the road of real change in Illinois government.