You must read the fine print of Rauner’s term limits plan: Brown

Written By By Mark Brown Posted: 04/24/2014, 04:04am

To the many thousands of Illinois residents who have signed petitions for Bruce Rauner’s term limits amendment in expectation of soon being rid of House Speaker Mike Madigan and his cohorts, I’m afraid you should have read the fine print.

Even if the proposed constitutional amendment makes it on the November ballot for a referendum, and even if that referendum were to be approved by the voters, it doesn’t get rid of anybody in the Legislature for eight more years.

That means it would be January of 2023 before Madigan or any other legislators would be required by law to step aside under the proposed eight-year maximum time in office, organizers concede.

By then, Madigan would be 80-years-old. Father Time may have arranged Madigan’s exit from the Speaker’s post at that point, although I can understand taking nothing for granted in that regard given Madigan’s health and obstinance.

With the primary election now behind us and Rauner moving forward as the GOP nominee, you should expect to hear plenty more in coming months about the term limits amendment — and what it would and wouldn’t do.

Based on the emails I’m receiving, I think many voters will be surprised to learn it wouldn’t bring the immediate end of Madigan’s reign, but would immediately give more power to Illinois’ next governor. (Now, who might that be?)

Organizers of the effort — which Rauner conceived, funded and has made a centerpiece of his campaign — say they are on target to submit more than 450,000 signatures by the May 4 deadline set by law.

It takes 289,400 valid signatures to place a ballot initiative before the voters, which is a difficult task. As of Friday, Rauner’s Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits was claiming at least 320,000 signatures with more in hand yet to be counted.

After the petitions are submitted, which will entail a bound stack an estimated 30-feet in length, every expectation is there will be a legal donnybrook to keep it from coming to a vote.

That could unfold on two fronts with a challenge to the petitions themselves and whether they contain enough valid signatures, as well as a battle over whether the proposed amendment is legally drawn.

When I started about the business of getting better acquainted with the particulars of Rauner’s plan, I was toying with the idea of recommending support for the amendment.

Although not a big fan of term limits, an artificial solution that will never make up for an informed electorate, my resistance has worn down through the years. You want to try term limits, okay. I mean, don’t get your hopes up, but don’t let me get in the way.

The problem, I was reminded as I looked into it, is that Rauner’s amendment doesn’t just stop at term limits but also takes in some extraneous “reform” proposals that strike me as ill-conceived.

One would reduce the size of the state Senate to 41 members from the current 59 while increasing the size of the House to 123 members from 118. Supporters say this will save a lot of money on Senate staff and bring House members closer to their constituents. It also would create some enormous Senate districts, which would require the remaining senators to have more staff.

The other provision would make it more difficult for legislators to override a governor’s veto by increasing the required 3/5 majority vote of both chambers to a 2/3 majority. The obvious purpose is to strengthen Rauner’s hand against Madigan, which isn’t a good reason to tinker with the state Constitution.

Did any of you feel Rod Blagojevich wasn’t given enough power? Do you think Illinois would be better off today if only Blago could have kept the Legislature in better check with his veto? See what I mean.

The strangest part is that neither of these proposals were the result of public clamoring or offered by some good government think tank. Instead, both were dreamed up by Rauner and his lawyers in hopes of cobbling something together that would help the term limits amendment pass muster with the Supreme Court.

One reason you haven’t heard more about this aspect of the Rauner proposal is that serious political people of both parties consider the whole term limit amendment campaign to be a cynical political ploy by Rauner because it will never reach the ballot.

A prior Supreme Court ruling severely restricts such constitutional initiatives, making them almost impossible.

The ruling came in 1994 when a guy named Pat Quinn tried to put a term limits proposal before the voters, and the court said he couldn’t.

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