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Two good government gifts to the people of Illinois

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski | James Foster/For the Sun-Times

We Illinoisans received some early holiday gifts that we probably overlooked in the whirlwind since the election.

Gifts of leadership, direction and ethics from a couple of Democrats whose names you normally don’t see together: U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski and Cook County Assessor Fritz Kaegi.

OPINION

Lipinski is one of the more conservative members of the Democratic Party, while Kaegi comes from the progressive wing. Both gave us early holiday gifts for which we should be grateful.

Lipinski, who represents the 3rd Congressional District of Illinois, also is a member of a group in Washington called the House Problem Solvers Caucus. The caucus has been pushing a reform package to break the gridlock in Congress and Lipinski recently shared some of the details of the package, in an op-ed in the Chicago Tribune.

Lipinski and his fellow problem-solvers are pushing for a transparent process to move legislation and encourage bipartisanship in the House. He decries a system whereby the Speaker of the House and minority party leaders wield too much control and power over their members.

One rule change in the reform package would give every federal lawmaker the right to have one piece of legislation that they’ve introduced heard by a committee — so long as they can show the bill has bipartisan support.

“Another proposal mandates that if 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans co-sponsor an amendment,” Lipinski wrote, “the amendment automatically gets to be debated and considered on the floor. A third requires that any bill that has 290 co-sponsors — two-thirds of the House — be debated and voted on the House floor.”

These gifts of ideas make eminent sense, don’t they? We learn in civics classes that a lawmaker comes up with an idea, turns it into a bill, wins support for it from colleagues, and then it’s supposed to be subjected to a fair debate and given a chance to become law.

But we’ve also seen and learned that it doesn’t really work that way anymore. The system is rigged so that party leaders wield ultimate control.

My question is this: Why not adopt these common-sense concepts not just at the federal level, but within the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield? No, really, why not?

The answer to the “why not” is that Democratic Party leaders won’t want their power diluted in this way, especially not now that they have supermajority numbers and control of the executive branch as well.

But 40 new lawmakers are about to be sworn in in Springfield. They could join forces with incumbents who chafe under the top-down system, organize and try to impose some change for the good of us all.

What a gift that would be. Can you imagine it? My guess is we’d probably see a much swifter move toward solving some of the state’s biggest challenges, such as our pension debt, unbalanced budgets and a rigged redistricting process. We’d see a course correction to a government that truly is much more representative of all of us.

And the idea came from a Democrat. Why not?

The other gift on which we’ve not focused enough attention is the one a majority of Cook County voters gave ourselves by electing Kaegi and ousting former Assessor Joe Berrios.

On the day Kaegi was sworn in, he vowed to deliver accurate, consistent and timely tax assessments. He committed his office to transparency and efficient customer service. He promised an end to pay-to-play politics, and no more jobs for relatives or deals for campaign contributors.

No longer will there be a property tax assessor’s office “organized to deliver favors to a small handful of winners at the expense of the rest of us,” Kaegi said.

Out of the gate, Kaegi gave us the gifts of banning nepotism and political patronage. He declared he would not accept campaign contributions from any lawyer or appraiser who does business with the assessor’s office.

He won’t take campaign contributions from employees. Workers in his office cannot accept gifts from those doing business with the office, and all of them must provide lists of property in which they have an economic interest, presumably so that any potential conflicts will be known.

Oh, and Kaegi said he’ll hire an outside auditor.

Such gifts of common-sense ethics and equity are too rare in Illinois.

As we head into a new year, with so many new people about to begin the work of representing us, wouldn’t it be amazing if many, many more of them resolved to model these ideals?

Madeleine Doubek will be executive director of CHANGE Illinois in the new year. You can reach her at mdoubek@changeil.org.

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