Saturday, September 14, 2013

It's about time: Term limits coming to Illinois!

By nearly any metric, Illinois is a basket case. In terms of growth of gross domestic output and growth of employment the state has long trailed the nation. Taxpayers have been migrating out of the state. The treasury is empty and taxes are rising in a self-destructive attempt to keep the state government afloat. One state scorecard ranked Illinois 47th among the 50 states in economic performance in 2012 and 48th for economic outlook.

How can this be?  Illinois has a full-time, professional legislature which is made up of predominately lawyers and experienced professional legislators. There is little turnover, with one study showing that overall turnover of the Illinois legislature to be the seventh lowest in the nation.  Certainly such a stable and experienced full-time team of lawmakers should make Illinois among the best-managed states.

Or, maybe this is precisely the problem. Maybe legislatures operate better with regular turnover, meaningful voter input via competitive elections, better incentives and a wider range of experience.
Bruce Rauner

Recent polling shows voters think so. A Paul Simon Public Policy Institute Poll published in November 2012 suggests some 78 percent of Illinois registered voters believe term limits are what is needed to shake up Springfield.

And it looks like they are going to get their way. A campaign has sprung up, led by venture capitalist and gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, which aims to put a reform package on the ballot for 2014 with 8-year term limits as its centerpiece. The committee is currently raising money and making plans to collect the 300,000 signatures needed to put the measure on the ballot. You can help the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits at their website here.

Before the first signature is collected you can already hear the politicians and special interests dusting off their favorite defense: "We aleady have term limits, they are called elections."

The problem with that little flower of homespun wholesomeness is that it isn't true. Over half of all legislative seats in last year's Illinois general election went unopposed. There were no elections held at all!  Even where elections were held for contested seats nearly all were nominal, lopsided affairs. A study of the legislature from 1992-2003 showed that the average vote margin in nominally contested races was never less than 25 percent.

Nothing has changed since then. Competitive elections are virtually unknown in the state of Illinois.

Consider this: Since 2001, incumbents seeking re-election have won more than 97 percent of the time.

Term limits will return turnover to the Illinois legislature, give voters greater voice, change the leadership of the body and toss out the professional legislators. It's time, let's get it done.