Kadner: Why term limits may not help Illinois
By Phil Kadner email@example.com April 9, 2014 8:06PM
Bruce Rauner, seeking the Republican nominaton for governor, visits his Chicago campaign headquarters in January. | Jessica Koscielniak/ Sun-Times
Updated: May 11, 2014 9:52AM
I would like to run a private equity firm and play with hundreds of millions of dollars.
You’re probably thinking, “That’s cool. But what the heck is private equity, and what do you know about it?”
Nothing. Not even sure what the words mean, although I have a general idea that it involves stuff like leveraged buyouts, mergers, downsizing and venture capital.
Despite my lack of experience, I think I know a guy who would consider hiring me. His name is Bruce Rauner.
Rauner is a multimillionaire who is the former chairman of a private equity firm and is now running as a Republican for governor of this state.
His TV commercials trumpet the fact that he has never been an elected official. In other words, because he knows nothing about running a government, he’s better than all the corrupt people in Illinois who have been running things.
That’s a pretty appealing argument to those of us who are fed up with the way this state has been run.
Rauner seems like a pretty bright guy, and he might become a decent governor, if elected.
But Rauner has made it clear he doesn’t want to be the only inexperienced person running things in Springfield.
He’s financially supporting an effort to place a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot that could place term limits on all state legislators in Illinois.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University this week revealed a poll that showed 80 percent of Illinois voters favor term limits for state lawmakers.
Six in 10 voters said they strongly favor term limits. Two in 10 said they somewhat favor term limits. The only surprise is that there are still 20 percent of the voters who are skeptical about the idea.
Government doesn’t get much worse than in Illinois.
Two recent governors have gone to prison for public corruption. The state is deeply in debt. Taxes are skyrocketing. Unemployment remains high. And legislators often seem unresponsive to public demands for reform.
It’s a mess, all right.
But I don’t trust the folks pushing term limits and, more important, I doubt it would work the way voters hope it would.
Why? Rod Blagojevich.
Blagojevich became governor promising all sorts of reforms and promoted himself as a fresh face in Illinois politics.
He won. He lied. And you know the rest of that story.
Lying is easy. Governing is hard.
The argument could be made that Blagojevich was always a political “insider.” His father-in-law is former Chicago Ald. Richard Mell and Blagojevich was a congressman and state legislator before becoming governor.
But the term limits measure doesn’t prohibit politicians from changing offices, it merely restricts the number of consecutive years they could serve in one office.
It also doesn’t prohibit legislators from putting the names of their spouses, sons or daughters on the ballot to replace them. That’s happened in Illinois many times and in other states as well.
But here’s another reason why term limits may not bring about the changes voters want.
Since 2010, there has been a 44 percent turnover in the Illinois House. In the Senate, there has been a 38 percent turnover.
Those changes include several new faces in the Southland. There’s state Sen. Napoleon Harris III, D-Flossmoor; state Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Orland Hills; state Sen. Bill Cunningham, D-Chicago, who used to be a member of the House; state Rep. Fran Hurley, D-Chicago; and state Rep. Kelly Burke, D-Evergreen Park.
If you like those people and think they’re better than the old crew, fine, but keep in mind you would be limiting their terms in office if this constitutional amendment passes.
Personally, I think that’s a lot of change in four years, but not much has changed in Springfield. That’s because there’s a lot more to running a government than changing the people in public office.
Although the influence of political machines has diminished, political parties are still influential in choosing candidates, organizing support behind them and raising money.
In addition, there are all those special interest groups that voters hate. They also support candidates with money and put campaign workers in the field.
And now you have Super PACs, mammoth political fundraising organizations operating throughout the country and spending billions of dollars to try to elect their candidates. Once in office, those new candidates will be beholden to their major supporters just like the old ones.
In addition, they won’t know how to do their jobs. They won’t understand the complicated language contained in bills or how to even get a bill passed.
So they will be heavily reliant on paid lobbyists and longtime legislative staff members, who already have a lot of influence in Springfield but will have more when naive politicians come to town.
I could go on and list more reasons why term limits likely won’t work the way voters want them to, but chances are you’re not going to listen.
Voters in Illinois want change, and they can’t imagine how change would be worse than the government that exists today.
During a recent public forum on term limits, former Gov. Jim Edgar, a very popular fellow when he was in office, said legislative term limits would give more power to the governor and create “chaos” in Springfield.
“We need stability to fix the state,” Edgar said.
Gov. Pat Quinn, like Rauner, supports term limits.
In a perfect world, term limits could be a good thing.
But in that perfect world, voters would use elections to get rid of the politicians they don’t like and replace them with people who are better.
We live in Illinois. And that’s at the opposite end of the world from perfection.