Powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has fired a pre-emptive strike at efforts to impose term limits and to take away his Democratic Party’s power to draw the boundaries of the state’s legislative map.
Madigan’s longtime lawyer Michael Kasper filed a lawsuit this week in Cook County Circuit Court that would prevent state, county and Chicago election authorities from conducting referendums of the two proposals in November. Setting term limits and changing the state’s redistricting process would require constitutional amendments.
The move comes as Bruce Rauner, the Republican nominee for governor, filed more than 590,000 signatures with the State Board of Elections Wednesday to get his term-limit constitutional amendment on the Nov. 4 ballot.
Other would-be reformers of Illinois politics are pushing to create an independent body to redraw the state legislative maps after each census.
During an exchange with reporters Wednesday at the state Capitol, Madigan derided Rauner’s term-limits push and the proposed constitutional amendment aimed at changing the redistricting process.
“Those two constitutional questions are all Republican politics,” Madigan said. “They’re all part of the Rauner campaign for governor. They’re all an attempt to get away from the obvious fact that Rauner and the Republicans are a party of reaction, not a party of progress.”
Although Kasper filed the suit, the plaintiffs are a who’s who of local black, Latinos and Asians with strong ties to the local Democratic power structure. They include:
• Retired Commonwealth Edison CEO Frank Clark.
• The Rev. Leon Finney.
• Craig Chico, brother of Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.
• Chinatown Chamber of Commerce President Raymond Chin.
• Developer Elzie Higginbottom.
• The Little Village Chamber of Commerce.
The suit takes aim at what Kasper called two petition drives that “have been (or shortly will be filed)” with state officials to generate referendums on term limits and the redistricting proposal.
“This is a taxpayer action to restrain the expenditure of public funding to consider the propriety of two proposed amendments” to the state Constitution, Kasper wrote.
He also argues in the suit that the Illinois Supreme Court already ruled 20 years ago that term limits are an “improper subject for amendments.”
In a statement Wednesday, the Rauner campaign lashed out at those aiming to tie up his constitutional amendment in the courts.
“Pat Quinn and Mike Madigan are the poster boys for term limits, and they both oppose this good-government reform so this lawsuit is no surprise,” Rauner spokesman Mike Schrimpf said.
A Quinn aide said her boss has long been an advocate for term limits but noted the state’s high court has ruled term limits are a matter for the Illinois General Assembly and governor to decide.
“The governor is a strong proponent of term limits, always has been. He led the charge in the 1990s to enact term limits, and the Supreme Court ultimately ruled this is a matter that had to be done through legislation,” Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said. “That’s pretty clear to most of us that’s the way it would have to be complied with.”