Gov. Bruce Rauner and his fellow Republicans have been talking about term limits so much for the past several weeks that you might expect to be voting on them this November.
You won’t. But you will continue hearing about term limits and the need for them in Illinois more and more because Rauner and his Republicans apparently have determined ginning up demand for term limits could help them win some key state legislative races in their epic battle against House Speaker Mike Madigan and his Democrats.
Rauner bounced around Illinois the past few weeks pushing citizens to pressure their lawmakers to vote — after the election in the fall veto session — to put a term limit question on the ballot. Elected officials, of course, aren’t fans of unilaterally putting themselves out of jobs, so that’s is unlikely. But even it if happened, the question that involves amending the state Constitution would have to go on a general election ballot. So, the earliest it could land on a ballot near you would be 2018.
Coincidentally or not, 2018 will be when Rauner is running for re-election to a second, four-year term. In 2014, the governor funded and used a term limits campaign to great effect, collecting several hundred thousand voters’ signatures to get it on the ballot. It then was challenged and knocked off the ballot by the Illinois Supreme Court, which made it evident only a supermajority vote of the General Assembly could prompt a vote by the people on term limits.
With Madigan in charge of majority Democrats, that’s about as likely to ever happen as Lake Michigan freezing over solid in August.
And yet, now, in addition to Rauner’s press conferences and guest columns popping up here and there by some Republican lawmakers, there’s also a website called fixillinois.com. Fixillinois.com is funded by Turnaround Illinois, Inc., a Super PAC controlled by Rauner that he started last year, helped by a $4 million donation from Illinois real estate mogul Sam Zell.
Super PACs, or independent expenditure committees, can raise and spend unlimited sums of money from people, groups or corporations to advocate for candidates or issues. They cannot, however, donate directly to a candidate.
The new spokesman for Turnaround Illinois, Inc. is Mike Schrimpf. Ring a bell? Schrimpf was Rauner’s top campaign and government communications strategist as a deputy chief of staff until he left in February to go work for the presidential campaign of John Kasich of Ohio. Now, Schrimpf and his twin brother, Chris, are back in Chicago and Columbus, having launched their own political strategy and communications firm, Red Tack Strategy.
I left a message for Schrimpf asking about Fixillinois.com. I wanted to know how much Turnaround Illinois, Inc. was spending on it and a new TV ad, where the ad was running and at what cost. Schrimpf, in an email, replied: “The ad is a significant buy in most state media markets.
“Fix Illinois is designed to be a vehicle through which the people of Illinois can make their voices heard,” he continued. “It’s about the millions of concerned residents who don’t have a strong voice in Springfield because our political system is broken. We’re providing an outlet to amplify the voice of the people, provide information on key issues and promote engagement in our political system.”
Fixillinois.com asks you to sign a petition to tell your legislators the people of Illinois demand term limits. That, of course, also serves as a great way for Turnaround Illinois Inc. to collect contact information for persuadable Illinoisans.Rauner’s popularity has plummeted after 1.5 years in office with no budget to show for it. After his election, there was the Rauner campaign to curtail union power in the state that didn’t succeed. But term limits are wildly popular and Rauner appears to be banking on boosting up the demand for them while, at the same time, raising the pressure on Democrats he’s targeting for defeat in a few dozen key districts in southern and western Illinois, Kankakee, Joliet, Aurora and several north and northwest suburbs.And if he can boost is own popularity again while making Madigan out to be the guy stopping term limits, so much the better.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 21 states have adopted term limits since 1990, but court cases and repeals mean only 15 currently have limits for their state lawmakers. Among them are high-population states like California and Florida and even one with a reputation for corruption like ours, Louisiana.
But even if they were perfect, are term limits the best solution for a broken political system? Even if lawmakers buckled and voted to put a term limits question on the November 2018 ballot, and even if it passed, the term limit clock would not start ticking until 2019. Speaker Madigan then would have 10 years, until 2029, before he would be term-limited out. He’s 74 now. Then, he’ll be 87.That’s a long time to wait to fix a broken system.
Madeleine Doubek is publisher of Reboot Illinois.
Follow Madeleine Doubek on Twitter: Follow @MDoubekRebootIL