Illinois corruption wins if the players change but the rules remain the same

With two important votes on Jan. 13, the Illinois House can dismantle not just the Mike Madigan Machine, but the system that gave him his unprecedented power.

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Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan

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With the feds circling Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan, and his associates and political allies rethinking loyalties, it’s tempting to think that this is it — if Madigan goes down, Illinoisans will have a big win against public corruption.

But take out Madigan, plug in the next speaker, and the same old system will breed the same old corruption.

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Take the 891 convictions for public corruption that have occurred in Illinois since 2000. That’s nearly one public corruption conviction per week for the last 20 years. It’s not any one person’s doing and I’m skeptical that the 892nd conviction will solve our problems.

If, instead, we change the system, we change the future of Illinois politics.

With two important votes on Jan. 13, the Illinois House can dismantle not just the Madigan Machine, but the system that gave him his unprecedented power. Lawmakers can ensure that no future speaker can dominate and corrupt our representation in Springfield.

How? Bust up the rules dictating how business is done in the Illinois House.

The House rules now concentratepower with the speaker, but three examples show how simple changes could disperse authority to the rest of the state’s elected representatives, where it belongs:

1.By selecting the majority of the members on the Rules Committee — including the chairperson — the House speaker has singular power to determine which bills become law. Designed to serve as a bureaucratic halfway house that assigns bills to substantive committees for a hearing, the Rules Committee has become a wasteland for any bill that would challenge the speaker’s power.

To get a bill stuck in Rules out for a vote, the chief sponsor of a bill must file a motion signed by three-fifths of the Republicans and three-fifths of the Democrats in the House, all of whom must also be sponsors of the bill. The only other way to discharge a bill that is idling in Rules is to get the unanimous consent of the House. Changing the provisions so that a simple majority vote in the House can discharge a bill from the House Rules Committee is much needed.

2.The speaker can use committee chair appointments — and the hefty stipends that come with them — as political perks. And not only do the current House rules allow the speaker to name the majority of each committee’s members, including the chair, but he also can determine who votes in committees. He can even swap out vulnerable lawmakers for those holding safer seats by using temporary substitutions. Substitutions of committee members for political reasons should be banned, and committee chairs should be elected through a majority vote of their caucus.

3.A current House rule states that “any order of business may be changed at any time by the Speaker or Presiding Officer.” Instead of giving all vote-scheduling power to the speaker, the rules should require a set schedule that can be adjusted only with approval from at least a majority of House members. That would allow rank-and-file lawmakers to know for certain the schedule in advance and adequately prepare to discuss and vote on bills.

Madigan’s reign has led to an Illinois that has hurt almost every resident’s finances: Endless property tax hikes, a pension crisis that has bred income tax hikes and service cuts, and laggard economic growth that means weaker jobs and wage growth.

It’s the corrupt system we’re all paying the price for.

This January, state representatives should vote out Mike Madigan. But state representatives should also reject the House rules that allow for a speaker’s unchecked power.

Let’s start 2021 with a clean House — dismantling the corrupt rules that have no place in a healthy state democracy.

Matt Paprocki is president of the Illinois Policy Institute.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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