The issue of term limits for Illinois lawmakers is dead — for now, at least — and that ought to be welcome news for anyone who values democracy, freedom of choice and sound public policy.
Term limits is an old idea that is resurrected every few years in Illinois. The most vocal proponent of the latest term limits effort is Republican governor candidate and “political outsider” Bruce Rauner, who wants to rid the Capitol of so-called career politicians by restricting lawmakers to eight years in office and also making it tougher for them to override gubernatorial vetoes.
The term limits proposal also called for increasing the size of the House and reducing the size of the Senate, provisions that were thought to satisfy requirements outlined in the Illinois constitution.
Rauner, chairman of the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, championed a statewide petition effort earlier this year that sought support for putting the term limits referendum question on the Nov. 4 ballot. Approval would have yielded a constitutional amendment.
Backers of the initiative collected the needed signatures, and it appeared to be smooth sailing. Not so fast, though.
A legal challenge quickly was filed. A circuit court judge said the measure violated a provision of the Illinois constitution that requires changes to the legislature to be both “structural and procedural.” The term limits folks appealed the decision, and an appellate judge upheld the lower court’s decision.
And on Aug. 22 the Illinois Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the ruling, bringing the term limits effort of 2014 to an end.
Rauner didn’t go down without a few choice words for the status quo.
“Pat Quinn, Mike Madigan and the Springfield career politicians won today, and the people of Illinois lost,” he said in a statement. “But the people will have the final say. A pro-term limits General Assembly pushed by a pro-term limits governor can put this critical reform in place any day they want. Illinoisans should have that in mind when they vote this November.”
As we’ve admonished for years, Illinois already has built-in term limits. It’s called voting. The Constitution guarantees people the opportunity to express their values and their opinions at the ballot box by voting for or against candidates.
Arbitrarily limiting the number of terms an elected official can serve erodes the public’s right to say how their government should be run, who is best suited for the job of running it, and which politicians have worn out their welcome. People tend to underestimate how much power there is in a vote.
But the idea of term limits never loses its luster. It’s a simple script that plays well with hopelessly discouraged voters who believe they have no other recourse for changing government. And in Illinois, where Democrats occupy most of the seats in the state legislature and Republicans want to occupy more, there is plenty for voters to be upset about.
To put it simply, there is a trust deficit in Illinois among voters. And who can blame them? In the past decade, they have experienced two governors sent to prison, other elected officials brought up on corruption charges, state money and programs mismanaged, services cut, one-party domination at the Statehouse, increasingly negative partisanship in politics, a lack of openness and transparency in government, the growing influence of money, and a perception that lawmakers will say anything to get elected.
These are broad, complicated problems that term limits simply will not solve.
The best way for people to express their dissatisfaction with politicians and incumbents is to get involved in the electoral process by casting a vote, running for office or supporting their favorite candidates with money or time.
This isn’t the first time a candidate eager to get change-hungry voters to the polls has offered term limits as a solution, but voters have a better choice: cast a ballot.
—GateHouse News Service