Term Limits: While Not a Panacea, Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner Advance Worthy Proposals (Part 2)

Former Governor Pat Quinn, a fixture on the Illinois political scene for decades, has been on the statewide ballot many times, and also served as State Treasurer and Lt. Governor. Earlier this month, Reboot Illinois’ Matt Dietrich wrote this:

Before serving as governor from 2009 to 2015, Pat Quinn was known as a rabble-rousing reformer who, most famously, led a 1980 citizen initiative that cut the membership of the Illinois House by one-third.

Now Quinn wants to “open up” Chicago’s City Hall “and let the people in” — this is how his TakeChargeChicago.org states it:

Welcome to Take Charge Chicago, a grassroots movement to open up City Hall and let the people in. Take Charge Chicago aims to put two binding referendums on the ballot: a term limit on the Mayor of Chicago; and creation of an elected Consumer Advocate to be a champion for beleaguered Chicago taxpayers and consumers.

As written at the Associate Press:

The binding referendums could be on ballots as early as November or in the 2018 cycle, meaning there’s potential to make Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel ineligible to seek a third term in 2019.

In an email to supporters, Quinn wrote:

Consider three points:

1. Chicago is the only city among the nation’s 10 biggest cities without a term limit on its mayor.

2. Incumbent Chicago mayors routinely outspend their challengers by millions of dollars reaped from lobbyists, corporations and billionaires.

3. The best way to achieve true campaign finance reform and end secrecy in City Hall is through mayoral term limits. And the only way to achieve term limits is through a petition drive and binding referendum, a power authorized by the 1970 Illinois Constitution.

During one 56-year span without the term limit, Richard J. Daley and his son Richard M. Daley served as mayor for a combined 43 years.

Governor Bruce Rauner’s effort to implement term limits for state-level offices is summed up in his “turnaround agenda”:

Term Limits Amendment

Background: Fifteen other states impose term limits on state legislators. Most states impose a limit of eight to 12 years in each chamber. It’s time for Illinois to adopt legislative term limits.

Proposal: The Illinois Constitution should be amended to limit a Representative or Senator from holding that office or combination of those offices for more than 10 years.

Here is Austin Berg writing at the Illinois Policy Institute:

As part of his “Turnaround Agenda,” Gov. Bruce Rauner wants a constitutional amendment limiting the governor’s tenure to eight years and state politicians’ to 10 years. Lawmakers filed resolutions in the Illinois House and Senate on May 22 to this end.

High demand for term limits in Illinois should come as a surprise to no one. Illinoisans are far less trusting of their state government than residents in any other state, and for good reason. The Land of Lincoln is one of the most corrupt states in the country, and contains the nation’s most corrupt city, Chicago, according to a new report from researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The Illinois Policy Institute is unabashed in its support for term limits — and lays out their argument succinctly:

Illinois’ political machine is fueled by career lawmakers.

With more than 80 years in office between Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, entrenched political figures run the show in Illinois.

Madigan has consolidated his power through decades of fundraising, redistricting and scare tactics, to the point where nothing can become Illinois law without his approval. How’s that for democracy?

It’s time to dismantle Illinois’ political machine once and for all. It’s time for term limits on Illinois lawmakers.

As was pointed out in part 1, term limits have been a part of the American fabric since its founding era:

According to [James Young’s The Washington Community 1800–1828], the tendency to look with mistrust upon political power was so ingrained into American culture that even the officeholders themselves perceived their occupations in a disparaging light. James Fenimore Cooper described the common view that “contact with the affairs of state is one of the most corrupting of the influences to which men are exposed.” An article in the Richmond Enquirer (1822) noted that the “long cherished” principle of rotation in office had been impressed on the republican mind “by a kind of intuitive impulse, unassailable to argument or authority.” ~ Source.

If you’re old enough, you might remember that the Republicans’ “Contract with America” in 1994 included a promise to call to a vote a Constitutional Amendment for term limits. Since the bill failed to get a two-thirds majority, it failed.

Here is another bit of interesting information on the overall topic:

Legal scholars have discussed whether or not to impose term limits on the Supreme Court of the United States. Currently, Supreme Court Justices are appointed for life “during good behaviour.” A sentiment has developed, among certain scholars, that the Supreme Court may not be accountable in a way that is most in line with the spirit of checks and balances. Equally, scholars have argued that life tenure has taken on a new meaning in a modern context. Changes in medical care have markedly raised life expectancy and therefore has allowed Justices to serve [far] longer than ever before. ~ Source.

A few more facts from the same source as above:

  • Term limits for state officials have existed since colonial times.
  • At present, 36 states have term limits of various types for their governors.
  • Governors of 36 states and 4 territories are subject to various term limits, while the governors of 14 states, Puerto Rico, and the Mayor of Washington, D.C., may serve an unlimited number of [terms].

According to the Encyclopedia Chicago, “Alderman Mathias ‘Paddy’ Bauler summed up the prevailing political climate of the mid-twentieth century when he observed, ‘Chicago ain’t ready for reform yet.’”

Illinois and Chicago are both ready for and in much need of many reforms. Term limits are a good one to add to the list. Getting the larger work of reform accomplished, however, still requires more Illinoisans and Chicagoans to step up and do the work required in the political fields.

First published by Illinois Family Action.

Image credit: Illinois Family Action.