Brian's Column 01-07-2016

“Let Political Winds Pass”

Good legislation is the product of much debate, multiple perspectives, and is always in the interest of the people.  That’s why in both the 98th and 99th General Assembly’s I have introduced legislation that would allow the recall of all Executive Branch officials and General Assembly members.  A recall differs from an impeachment because it is initiated by the voters and constituents.  Instead, the impeachment process stems from within the Legislative Branch and is always initiated in the House of Representatives.

On February 6, 2015, I introduced House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 0023 (HJRCA 23), and three days later it was referred to the Rules Committee where it remains with the other 3,479 bills there now.  The aim of this legislation is to give more power and control to the people to hold their elected officials accountable.  If HJRCA 23 passed both legislative chambers, it would then go on the November 2016 ballot where it would need to pass with a minimum of 60% in favor to become a part of the Illinois Constitution.  With the furor surrounding the demands for a recall in Chicago and new legislation being introduced for political gain, I believe we should return to the concepts and ideas before they were rife with animosity and tension.

The last time Illinois visited the concept of a recall election was in 2010 on the heels of disgraced Governor Blagojevich’s impeachment trial.  The political winds were strong then too, but ultimately a bad bill was passed and became law.  Many editorial boards from across Illinois condemned the bill as unrealistic and setting legal hurdles too high.  Specifically, as it stands now, only the Governor is eligible for recall, if and only if, Senators and Representatives in an equal, bipartisan number sign onto the pending recall petition.  Particularly, a minimum of 10 Democrats and 10 Republicans have to sign on in the House and 5 from both sides of the aisle must sign on the Senate.  In effect, the law now says that only if you’re as bad as Blagojevich, and the whole State agrees, then you can attempt your recall election.

Historically, Illinois doesn’t have its proverbial cart ahead of the horse though.  Oregon is believed to be the first state in the country, back in 1908, to implement the recall of executive officials through an election.  Since then, 17 other states and the District of Columbia have implemented provisions to initiate a recall election concluding with Minnesota in 1996.  In 2010, voters amended the Illinois Constitution by passing the recall language, for a total of 19 States and the District of Columbia in the US, that have some form of a recall procedure for executive officials even though Illinois only allows for the Governor to be recalled.

The legislation introduced over the past few weeks is retaliatory, for political gain, and popular with the people.  The Illinois Constitution lays this concept out perfectly in Article 1 of the Illinois Bill of Rights, “governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Therefore, it is paramount that the governed have the ability to hold their elected officials accountable.  Only through our consent is the power of the government just, and when unjust deeds occur, as they allegedly have in Chicago, we should have procedures in place to remove officials for malfeasance and incompetence.  As citizens, we should not have to endure a fool for the duration of their term, no matter which office they hold be it a local or state official.

Current legislation is utilizing the power of state government to threaten a city official.  Instead of this reactionary, knee-jerk response, the people of Illinois should gradually implement legislation that has been debated, fully comprehended, and that is in the best interest of “the governed”, like our Illinois Constitution states.

Governor Rauner has signaled that he would sign pending legislation expanding Illinois’ recall provisions.  I believe the Governor’s intent is to expand local control and give the consolidated power back to the people – piece by piece if necessary.  If I stopped too soon in only delineating the General Assembly and Executive positions, I am happy to hear the argument for utilizing State authority to provide increased local control.  That control may only need to be extended to non-Home Rule municipalities because if history serves my memory correctly an Alderwoman in Buffalo Grove was recalled in 2010.  One cannot ignore the facts, but then again, in Illinois political debates, we tend to put facts on the sidelines and play Cutler instead.  If we had a real debate, an informed debate, about the benefits and disadvantages of recall provisions then we would include the historical record.

Recently introduced legislation has one intended consequence: revitalize the controversy in Chicago surrounding the Mayor, the lawlessness of some neighborhoods in Chicago, and unequivocally a few bad law enforcement practices.  That’s not an appropriate reason to change the Constitution.  In fact, one bad apple shouldn’t even prompt a change in the law, let alone the Illinois Constitution. However, in this circumstance, we should expand the powers of the citizens to hold our elected officials accountable.

This week’s column reminds me of a quote by Atifete Jahjaga, President of the Republic of Kosovo and the first non-partisan and the youngest female to be elected as head of state,   “Democracy must be built through open societies that share information.  When there is information, there is enlightenment.  When there is debate, there are solutions.  When there is no sharing of power, no rule of law, no accountability, there is abuse, corruption, subjugation and indignation.”