The Case for an Illinois Constitutional Convention

Governor Rod Blagojevich has done something remarkable in Illinois. He has managed to unite people across the political spectrum to create consensus that he absolutely stinks as a governor. Illinois deserves better than Rod Blagojevich.

Because of his low approval in both parties and the budget fiasco of last year, legislators (even those in his own party) are talking about amending the constitution to allow recall votes of sitting politicians. The timing for such talk is opportune because on the November ballot this year there will be a question on whether to have a constitutional convention for Illinois to rewrite or amend the state constitution.

The ability to throw a politician out of office after he or she has be shown unwilling or unable to govern according to the public interest is popular among the voters and is growing popular among politicians who want to take revenge against Blagojevich. Yet a convention should include more than just recalls. While throwing public officials out of office that has shown themselves to be a complete failure is a good start, revising the constitution should produce an overall solid framework for good governance.

There are many good reforms that should be considered and factor into a complete rewriting of the Illinois Constitution. The practice of gerrymandering needs to be eliminated. There are disturbingly few uncompetitive races throughout the state. Democrats have their seats, Republicans have theirs and often they do not even try to compete for the other party’s turf. Politicians should not be able to choose their voters; it should be the other way around. Take a look at the map of Illinois Congressional District 4 to see how ridiculous gerrymandered maps can be.

Along with gerrymandering, it is time to consider term limits for every elected and appointed office in the state. Far too many politicians rule “for life” without any real means for the voters to make them responsive to their needs. Every elected office on all levels should be limited to a maximum of 2 terms or 8 years. Likewise, appointed officials who hold a great amount of party who are not directly accountable to the people need to have their terms of office limited as well.

Open ballot access should be implemented. Every person should have equal ballot access regardless of political affiliation or non-affiliation and a true democracy requires nothing less. The freedom to vote does not mean much if there is no real choice. Independents and third-parties often have to get over 10 times the amount of signatures as established parties do. This system has led the federal courts to repeatedly rule against our election system.

Citizens should be allowed to put binding referenda on the ballot. When state lawmakers refuse or are unable to come up with solutions to problems, the citizens should have a means to bring them up directly. Such referenda, to be effective, need to be binding and not subject to overturning except in rare circumstances.

There are those who are against a constitutional convention because they think the current constitution is fine. To show how the current constitution is not “good enough”, take a look at Article VIII Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution which requires that the budget for the state be balanced.

Yet, according to the Commercial Club of Chicago, a prominent business group, the State of Illinois is in about $ 106 billion worth of debt. Being thoroughly disabused of the notion that a balanced budget requirement in the Illinois Constitution has produced a balanced budget, we can go forward with discussing rewriting the document.

This November, the citizens of Illinois have a great opportunity to take bake their government from the corrupt and entrenched politicians who rule with their “pay-to-play” politics. A convention, however, should not touch on solitary reforms but to reform the entire constitution to create a foundation and framework for good governance in Illinois. Illinois deserves better than this.

John Bambenek [http://bambenek.pentex-net.com] is a columnist and writer who blogs at Part-Time Pundit [http://www.parttimepundit.com] and is co-founder of the Illinois Citizens Coalition.