U.S. Term Limits Senior Fellow Paul Jacob once called the citizen initiative process “the political lifeblood of the people.”
“Without initiative and referendum the politicians can ignore the people and monopolize power,” he added.
Nowhere are Paul’s words more relevant right now than in the state of Illinois, where a citizen committee collected over 590,000 signatures to place a term limits and legislative reform question on the November ballot. If passed, it would have enacted solid eight-year term limits on the Illinois State House and State Senate and cut back on the overall size of the General Assembly.
But that was not to be. Last week, a corrupt alliance of career politicians and activist judges made sure that the term limits initiative would not appear on the ballot. After allies of 29-year Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan filed a lawsuit against the measure, a circuit court judge ruled it unconstitutional. Then an appeals court concurred with the county judge, and the state Supreme Court refused to hear a final appeal.
The judges, all with political ties to the Speaker, claimed the reforms didn’t make “structural and procedural changes” to the legislature. If term limits and altering the size of a legislative body aren’t “structural and procedural” fixes, then nothing will ever meet the definition. Clearly, this was a case of legislators exploiting any loophole they could find to delay the inevitable.
Now, citizens of the nation’s third most corrupt state are livid. Gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who also led the term limits initiative committee, tells voters in a new ad to take out their frustrations on Madigan and current Governor Pat Quinn at the ballot box.
Elections are not term limits, so it remains to be seen whether citizens have the ability to throw out the political machine come November. If elected, Rauner will be able to push for a legislative referral on term limits or a rewrite of the state’s initiative law. Either option could be the magic bullet the state needs to finally free itself from career politicians.
The insider-dominated political atmosphere in Illinois is a cautionary tale for Congress and other states weighing whether to keep or enact term limits. A small group of leaders with indefinite terms will always block reforms that threaten its own power. Under term limits, surrender of power is structurally and procedurally a part of the legislature. Citizens have access to the lawmaking process without fear that self-interest will block the door.
EDITORS NOTE: The featured photo is of Michael Madigan who has been Speaker of the Illinois House for 29 of the past 31 years. it was his associates who filed a lawsuit against the term limits and reform amendment.