In recent weeks, we in Illinois were both entertained and appalled by Kentucky clerk Kim Davis’ refusal to do her constitutional duty when she refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. The nation raised alarm and expressed astonishment for her blatant disregard of public office, indifference to the rule of law, and willful disobedience.
But here at home, our own elected officials have failed for months to do their constitutional duties, and I cannot understand how this situation is fundamentally different from that of Kim Davis’.
Last winter, Gov. Bruce Rauner proposed an unbalanced budget, contrary to his constitutional imperative, and then in the spring, the General Assembly passed a different, also unbalanced budget, which the governor mostly vetoed. Since then, we have been racing toward disaster, with the state functioning only by virtue of a combination of consent decrees, court orders, last minute appropriations and the unpaid labor of human service providers.
Illinois Public Radio reported in early September that Gov. Rauner and the four legislative leaders – Speaker Mike Madigan, President John Cullerton, Leader Christine Radogno, and Leader Jim Durkin — have not met since May. In the meantime, hundreds of families have been taken hostage and denied care, providers have gone out of business, human service workers have lost their jobs, the backlog of unpaid bills is rapidly growing, and the state economy is on a course to spend billions more than it brings in.
How is it possible that our elected leaders have not met in four months? What could be a higher priority than doing their constitutionally defined job? Where are these supposed negotiations taking place if they are not even speaking to each other? Where is the outrage? Where is the public shaming?
Our leaders have harmed far more people by their refusal to do their jobs than Kim Davis ever has, but she’s the one who was held in contempt of court. It seems only just that our elected officials — legislative leadership, rank-and-file legislators, and the governor — should face such consequences. Isn’t their unwillingness to meet a demonstration of their contempt for us and the Illinois Constitution?
By Andrea Durbin, chief executive officer of Illinois Collaboration on Youth.