The Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee recently approved a pair of reform initiatives for the Illinois General Assembly, but not before members raised significant concerns.
“Throughout history, we know that power corrupts,” Bob Costello said to Chamber members at the Hotel Arista. “We want to put limits on power.”
Costello represents Term Limits and Reform, a non-profit collecting signatures for a 2014 referendum question asking voters to approve legislative terms to be limited to a total of eight years in the state legislature.
Costello pointed out that for the first hundred years of American history, the average service was two terms for legislators, following George Washington’s example of retiring after two terms.
He argued that many good people would run for office not looking to make it a lifelong career if they knew that they could make a contribution without waiting years to move up the legislative seniority list.
The initiative also calls for downsizing the state Senate to 41 members from its current 59, and making it harder for legislators to override a governor’s veto by raising the threshold from a three-fifths majority to two-thirds in both houses.
“We are not a class society and we should not have a professional ruling class,” he said.
The initiative is funded partially by gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who chairs the group, a fact not lost on some in the audience.
State Sen. Linda Holmes (D-Aurora) pointed out that at the same time Rauner was advocating for term limits, he was also running for governor, saying, “you’re bringing it right back to politics.”
Holmes also noted that representing constituents was time-consuming enough already without enlarging senatorial districts.
Naperville City Councilman Steve Chirico expressed concern that term limits would have the result of giving too much power to government staffs, saying “staff would be the only continuing element” in government.
His colleague Paul Hinterlong was sympathetic to the notion of term limits, but warned that a legislative body would look drastically different.
“You’re going to lose probably half of your elected body,” he said.
Costello said it would likely happen even before eight years and maintained that it was the intended effect.
Holmes also raised the issue of the redistricting mandated every 10 years and asked how to juggle that with the eight-year proposed limit.
“Thirty other states are doing it right now,” he said, but at least one other audience member wasn’t satisfied with the answer.
“I don’t care about 30 other states,” Brien Nagle said. “You need a very, very clear answer to that question.”
But in the end, members passed the supporting resolution by a voice vote with no dissenting voices, save Holmes, who is not a voting member of the Chamber.
A resolution supporting efforts for the Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment also passed by a voice vote, but it also attracted strict scrutiny from the group.
Yes, For Independent Maps is seeking 298,000 signatures for its referendum question which, if successful, would allow the Auditor General’s office to create a panel of three reviewers by beginning with 100 eligible volunteers, with the stipulation that four commissioner slots would be split evenly between the political parties finishing first and second in the most recent governor’s election.
The remaining three would not be affiliated with any political party.
State Sen. Michael Connelly (R-Naperville) liked the idea, especially the fact that members of both political parties would have an equal voice in choosing the independent commissioners.
“Both parties have to compromise,” he said, stressing that he favored “anything that takes the process out of the hands of the victorious party.”
But Holmes was hesitant, pointing out that she was in favor of reform, but was concerned that it be implemented fairly.
She pointed out that federal laws had to be considered, especially in the area of protecting minorities.
“That’s a major issue, always,” she said.