Don't Be Afraid of a Con Con
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.
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.