Sunday, November 04, 2007

Don't Be Afraid of a Con Con

Last week's Tribune editorial about the need to add a recall provision to our state constitution has helped to turn up the discussion about whether or not the time is right for a Constitutional Convention.

While I've written about the issue before on the blog, below is a letter I wrote to the Tribune in response to their editorial.


Dear Editor:

When the same problems our state faced a generation ago remain unsolved, it is apparent that something in state government is not working right. Sunday’s opinion piece ‘Removing a Governor’, calling for an amendment to our State Constitution to create a recall provision serves as a clarion call for Illinoisans to seize their upcoming opportunity to consider this issue and others of even greater importance.

On the November 2008 ballot, voters will have the chance to exercise one of the most fundamental cornerstones of our democracy by voting for a Constitutional Convention. A “Con-Con” would provide the people of Illinois the opportunity to review how our state works and why, at times, it doesn’t. The Convention allows for elected delegates from each legislative district to assemble for the purpose of proposing amendments to the current State Constitution. The last such convention was held in 1970, and given that frustration with State government is exponentially higher today than it was almost forty years ago, the time seems right to send the delegates back in. For a state whose health is overdue for a check-up, a Con-Con may be just the right medicine.

Earlier this year, I filed House Resolution 25, to urge public awareness and support for a Con-Con. At its forefront, HR25 cites the need for delegates to examine the possibility of doing some things that the Legislature has been unwilling or unable to do itself. Namely, find solutions to some of the State’s most vital issues: how to equitably fund our schools; the need for an honest and open government; and a fairer approach to how we assess property in our state.

Support for the resolution is far from partisan or regional. With a roll call of 48-47, votes cast on each side of HR25 represented legislators from both sides of the aisle and from all parts of the State. This is not surprising given that the state’s most pressing needs know no geographic or partisan boundaries.

Critics from both the left and the right say that holding such a convention will open a ‘Pandora’s Box.’ In fact, there is no doubt that various front groups will be created and funded by the very special interests that want to preserve the status quo which has led us to our present morass. The purpose of these groups will be to coax voters into accepting our current dysfunctional government by convincing them that they should fear the unknown outcomes of a Con-Con. I submit that the majority of Illinoisans doubt that things could get much worse.

It is, however, important to realize that a Con-Con does not equate to a rewriting of the constitution of our State. To the contrary, the convention would be borne out of the document itself, which by its very content states that there shall be at least one opportunity every twenty years for the voters of Illinois to choose to review our State’s blueprint.

In fact, it is entirely possible that no substantive changes would be made at all as the result of a Con-Con. Another fact that should allay public concerns is that any recommendations adopted at such a Convention must then be submitted back to the voters for approval. It is truly democracy at its most essential. We have no way of knowing what the process will bring, but fear of the unknown is no reason to shy away from debate. Doing so simply signifies an acceptance of the current system.

A Con-Con could bring the kind of government Illinoisans deserve and should demand. Ideals could reign over agendas, and meaningful discussions could replace name-calling and political posturing. Having debates framed by policy rather than politics would refreshingly fill the capitol dome with fresh air, rather than hot air.

This may very well be an opportunity for citizens to cast one of the most significant votes in over three decades. I encourage everyone, regardless of their views or political stance, to set aside fear, cynicism, and apathy, and support the call for a Constitutional Convention.

11 Comments:

At November 5, 2007 at 10:59 AM, Anonymous lake county democrat said...

Given that the religious right managed to get their prayer, oh, moment-of-silence bill passed over a veto, don't you think you're a little quick to dismiss the "pandora's box" fears? I don't see the clean government masses rallying to such a convention as much as well-organized special interest groups. I actually favor a recall mechanism, but a con-con seems dangerous.

 
At November 5, 2007 at 12:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What I'm afraid of is voters being expected to vote for a ConCon without first knowing the rules by which delegates will be elected.

 
At November 5, 2007 at 9:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

John, I agree with you on most issues. But I've got serious reservations about the con-con proposal. Among other things, the existing Constitution leaves so much power in the hands of the General Assembly (read: its leadership) when it does to setting the rules for delegate elections ... for example, whether they'll be partisan, whether currently sitting legislators would be allowed to run, etc. In essence, it seems to me that a con-con could simply extend the leadership-driven shenanigans that so many of us would like to escape in the first place. So, one sad, ironic fear is that - despite your suggestion to the contrary - things actually could grow worse!

 
At November 6, 2007 at 9:56 PM, Blogger Extreme Wisdom said...

LCD,

The so-called "religious right" and "socially extreme left" cancel each other out.

The Illinois electorate will not ratify anything the EITHER includes or bans gay marriage, nor will they outlaw or enshrine abortion.

It appears that the small minded extremes (left and right) would rather keep this "toilet paper" constitution rather than find ways to give the state back to the citizens.

For my part, I trust the give and take of the possible new citizen delegates. Though most of my "center right" compatriots carp and whine about the "clout" of the left in Illinois, I tell them to trust the citizens.

Nothing extreme is going to pass ratification.

Speaking of delegates....

Anon 1 and 2,

Excellent point, and just another example of why we need to risk a new constitution. Even Article 14 is trash.

Once we get a "yes" vote, the entire dynamic of IL politics will change, as the delegate becomes more powerful than any state rep or senator.

The more they try to 'game' the process, the more they will be exposed for doing so.

A state with looming bankruptcy, $106 bil in unfunded pension liabilty, and 2 years of Rod, Tod and Richie flogging more and more taxes out of a disgusted taxpayer, isn't going to elect delegates that come from the same cadre of clowns who gave us this mess.

I better quit while I'm ahead, or the honorable John Fritchey will change his mind on a Convention vote.

In closing, nothing could be worse than this constitution. It is the document that got us where we are.

 
At November 6, 2007 at 10:06 PM, Blogger Rep. John Fritchey said...

EW,

While I may not fully agree with your condemnation of our present Constitution, I think you did a very good job of addressing the appurtenant issues.

Somebody write down the date, this could be the first time you and I have been this ideologically aligned :)

 
At November 7, 2007 at 6:46 AM, Anonymous Bill said...

There is nothing wrong with the current constitution that decent legislators in The GA can't fix. The electorate will overwhelmingly reject this expensive and potentially dangerous exercise in futility. While extremists like extreme "wisdom" moderate their rhetoric with the hope of achieving their dream of mandating their out of the mainstream views through a new constitution, the voters will not be fooled. The protection and rights guaranteed by the current constitution should not be subject to revocation by a few well funded and well organized zealots. As usual, regular, un-connected citizens will have very little chance of being elected to the convention as ward and township political organizations dominate the process.
While John's motives may be well intentioned, his support for a Con Con is misguided. Join me in voting no for a Constitutional convention or better yet, just ignore the question at the bottom of the ballot in '08. If the current crop of elected officials can't properly run the state let's get some who can. Leave the Constitution alone.

 
At November 7, 2007 at 12:33 PM, Blogger Extreme Wisdom said...

Bill,

You are simply wrong about the Constitution, as it guarantees nothing.

Under every "right" there is an implied "void where prohibited" ensconced somewhere in the small print.

However "extreme" my views are in your eyes, (I'll bet all my ideas poll over 60%, BTW) I'm smart enough to know that nothing 'extreme' (left or right) will be ratified by the electorate.

Your point about 'good legislators' is proof of my point. There is exactly nothing a legislator can do to bring change to IL.

Frerich's has some good ideas, but they are bottled up by his party's leadership.

If anyone gets far enough out of line, the money machine controlled by the respective leadership will do all they can to oust, or marginalize that person.

This Constitution is the document that created this mess, and it has to go.

My Main ideas?

1. Recall/binding ballot initiative

2. Term limits

3. Open Government/FOIA reform/All Gov. business on-line with in 24 hours - including every entity's check register.

4. Eminent Domain reform - Public Use defined as public, not transferred to private interests after condemnation

5. No ex post facto change of citizen obligations

6. Repeal/reform Home Rule so as to empower local CITIZENS, not local political hacks who can ream their citizens with impunity (See Tod Stroger)

7. Define Balanced budget to classify debt properly, and not as "revenues." - End Pension raids.

_____

Generally, Illinois needs to return to open, transparent, and limited government. Nothing you suggest, Bill, does any of that.

The current Constitution is a license to steal, and steal is what the political class has done.

 
At November 7, 2007 at 1:28 PM, Anonymous Realistically Cynical said...

Nothing gets me up in the morning like a good Constitutional Convention, but unfortunately I have to agree with Bill. I think that the idea of a ConCon is great, but I don't see it actually effectuating any change. Hate to play the cynic, but there it is.

First, there is little incentive for those people in power to push voters to vote in favor of a ConCon. A ConCon could mean a limit of political power, and why would any Rep, Senator, or Gov without a boatload of integrity want to limit their power?

Even if the ConCon is held, as it might be with a strong push for a recall mechanism, the Constitutional delegates will be selected by politicians. These politicians will want to put people in who will conserve their power, and the popular voice will either be politically ignorant or politically handicapped.

Either way, a ConCon is a great idea that will end in bitter disappointment.

 
At November 17, 2007 at 1:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree that the time has come for another CC. One of the things, having grown up in a law enforcement family, which I would like to see, is a much more comprehensive approach to gun laws in Illinois. We have a myriad of laws in place of which many are in contrary to one another in the actual enforcement there of on the level of law enforcement personnel.

I truly believe (as an anti hand gun, anti assault weapon person) that there can be a harmonious compromise reached with many from the hunting community and etc. We are over burdened with some of these laws and at the same time there is some redundancy in the laws (never mind the inability of the Bush administration to re-enact the anti assault weapon band it had promised to sign if sent to the White House by the Congress { lip service at best}).

It is by far high time to recognize the basic rights of rural hunting folks and urban sportsmen over that of illegal gun totting thugs! I DO NOT support any hand guns, but there HAS to be a way for the rest of us to be able to hunt! The concept of “bearing arms” in the US Constitution is out of context for these times (and for the same reason that the Constitution was written to include the amendatory process for change as we grow as a nation), but the basic principal of owning “minor” arms is not, especially for us hunters. There is work to be done

 
At November 17, 2007 at 1:36 AM, Anonymous Evanston Blue Dog said...

! November 5, 2007 10:59 AM

And I am soooo sad that Schoenberg voted for moment of silence the first time.... oh, but, not the second.... But, now he is opposed and supporting the legal challenge against it... PLEASE! This is a lame election year pandering of elected officials… The GOP panders to the right and the vulnerable Dems pander to everyone for a vote. Cheap! Where is Dan McCollum when you need him (McCollum v. Champaign Board of Ed. – basis for separation of church and stare – 1948)?

 
At November 23, 2007 at 9:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've come to this thread late, but I hope it continues. Everyone has to understand that the dysfunctional state of the Illinois governmental system is very unique across this country. Yes, there's corruption here-n-there, there's scandal, but I don't think folks realize how bad things are. We need a ConCon, very bad. Here's the things we need:

1) Proportional Representation. Bring third parties into the system as equal (albeit proportional) partners, not as spoilers. This ends gerry-mandering as well.

2) Unicameralism. Why do we need two legislative bodies to pass laws for our state? At the least, if you're going to have two, make them significantly structurally different--radically different district lines, process rules--something to make the two bodies deliberate differently. BUt really, I just say, get rid of the bicameralism--who needs it?

3) Force a dispersal of the leadership's power. Something like: allow bills to be called for a vote with sub-majority support; or give more power to committee leadership? Look at other states--they don't have it so bad.

4) Get rid of all these veto-sessions, and special sessions, etc.. That stuff means nothing to the electorate.

5) Completely overhaul property tax assessment and collections so that it is transparent and easy-to-understand. Today's system is so confusing no one knows who to blame when they're mad, people hire lawyers to help get re-assessments, which they get, further creating more cynicism, and all the politicians can brag they gave an exemption here-n-there or they even brag they lowered taxes when they didn't. And we the taxpayers really have no idea.

Keep it up.
ConCon!

 

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