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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Had enough yet? Vote for change

By Dennis Byrne
Chicago Tribune

Folks who are sincerely interested in "real change" should vote in next Tuesday's election for an Illinois constitutional convention.

Former Gen. Colin Powell said the election of Barack Obama would be "transformational," and if supporters of the Democratic candidate want the same kind of sea change on the state level, they can mark yes on the ballot question: Shall a convention be called to change the state constitution?

Without it, the state will continue marching toward insolvency and remain mired in corruption and incompetence. Sure, a revision of the state's 37-year-old constitution doesn't guarantee our rescue from the clutches of the bumbling, stubborn and shady politicians and interests that now run the state. But without the kind of improvements the convention and voters can force upon the state's power structure, you can wager that nothing will change.

The organized opponents of a constitutional convention—representing many of the same business, labor and political interests that have steered us to the brink—insist that constitutional change isn't what we need. The way to change government is to elect new people, they say. Sure, that has worked so well.

Then, after telling us that the way to reform government is to elect better people, the anti-con-con forces warn us a convention would be dangerous because voters would elect the same kind of convention delegates that they already elect to run state government. This argument is at war with itself. If we can't elect true reformers to a con-con, then how are we going to elect true reformers to man the helm of state government?

The anti-con-con forces could have made a better case for themselves if they had said: To reform government, we need to elect better people, and we're creating a coalition of the reform-minded to do just that. Our coalition will cross party lines and back a consensus slate of candidates for the 2010 election, in which the governor and all leading state officers are elected. That they haven't shown any interest in that demonstrates that in opposing a convention they are mainly interested in tamping down reform efforts.

Certainly, some opposition is reasonable and well-intentioned, based on fears, for example, that the convention would draft a worse constitution or fall into the hands of single-issue delegates, such as those who want to write into it protections against global warming or for traditional marriage.

One such thoughtful opponent is Ann M. Lousin, a John Marshall Law School professor, an experienced hand from the 1970 Con-Con and a scholar in the field. In a 52-page paper, "Will Illinois Hold a Constitutional Convention?," she outlines some major issues and how they might be addressed without calling a convention.

Whether they are confronted at a convention or some other way, Lousin lays out a worthy agenda for consideration that is a rebuke to those who say there's nothing for a convention to do: replacing judicial elections with "merit" selection; funding public pensions; financing public elementary and secondary education; and instituting a system of recalling state and local elected officials.

Other issues ripe for consideration are:

Returning to the "cumulative voting" system of electing state representatives, to help depolarize the current system; improving the system of redrawing legislative districts, to eliminate "redistricting by lottery"; imposing term limits; combining overlapping offices, such as state treasurer and controller; eliminating some offices altogether, such as lieutenant governor; revising home-rule powers and eliminating the multitude of special districts; reforming the state income tax; removing the corporate tax that was designed years ago to replace the personal property tax; requiring a legislative supermajority to raise taxes; broadening citizen initiative and referendum rights to bypass a gridlocked legislature; restricting the power of government to condemn private property for private development; and rethinking tax-increment financing districts.

Other issues abound, all sounding technical, uninteresting and only indirectly connected to solving Illinois' current problems. So, boredom and apathy are on the side of anti-con-con forces. Those forces also have the advantage of money, institutional power and a focused agenda. Pro-con-con forces are fragmented, ill-funded and devoid of comparable organizational resources. As outsiders always are.

But if you are fed up with the Blagojeviches, Madigans, Joneses and all the others who know how to play the system, I'd suggest you vote yes on con-con, to yank the system out from under them.


wrpn said...

Well I agree totally with you. We need to affect a change in state government in Illinois. A con-con is a good start!

Anonymous said...

I can't stand the b.s. in Springfield , believe me, but what we need right now is not more idiots running around trying to fix things it's to hold the current idiots accountable.

In short my logic in voting against it was that these folks down there can't get things right now, how are they going to improve with a 2nd round of stuff.

I also continue to be super disappointed with the state gop unable to offer any sort of alternative.

lake county democrat said...

While I yearn for reform, the con-con is a disasterous idea. Look at the kinds of referrendums that get put before other states -- those are far more likely to come out of a con-con (or at least will come out in addition to). And while social conservatives may love to see gay marriage bans / prayer in public schools / draconian limits on public funds used to help illegal immigrants / etc. etc. enshrined in the state constitution, I'm soooo not interested in millions spent on endless radio and tv ads battling these issues.

Kramer said...

If you are for it, I'm probably against it; sounds stupid but I just voted (early) against it, not even knowing your opinion on it. Seeing your support for it reinforces that I did the right thing. Any man that thinks (using the term loosely) that Obama is about "aura" and nothing more is really out of touch with reality; you need to get out a little more; meet some people that don't have their pious home schooled noses buried in their dinosaur-less science books.