Reeder: Lazy legislators can’t bother to vote themselves
By Scott Reeder firstname.lastname@example.org June 17, 2013 9:52PM
Updated: July 19, 2013 6:32AM
For the life of me, I’ll never understand why Illinois lawmakers are too lazy to push their own voting buttons.
After all, that’s what we pay them to do — vote on our behalf.
In 1988, when I first covered the General Assembly, a lawmaker proudly pulled a seven-foot-long piece of No. 9 wire from under his desk and showed me that he could not only vote for himself but also use his wire stick to press the voting buttons on the empty desks around him — without even getting up from his chair.
The practice of legislators having others operate their voting button is not only commonplace, in Illinois it’s expected.
The Statehouse press corps has mostly stopped reporting on this regrettable practice. After all, it has been going on for generations.
If you are surprised by this, it’s because you haven’t watched more than five minutes of the Illinois House of Representatives in action. If you have, you’ve witnessed chaos.
Lawmakers are milling about, folks are gabbing, pages scurrying, secretaries are lugging files, and no one seems to be paying attention to whoever is speaking about a particular bill.
When it’s time to vote, often the legislators, both in the House and Senate, don’t bother to walk back to their desks. They expect their buddies sitting nearby to press their voting button.
And it it’s not another legislator, a staffer or whoever else is handy will end up pushing the button.
It’s a routine practice by members of both political parties.
And it shows a cavalier disregard for the importance and solemnity of the legislative process.
When I covered the Nevada Legislature for one of the Las Vegas newspapers, I’d share stories of these voting antics of their counterparts in Illinois.
The Nevada legislators would give me perplexed looks because they viewed pushing their voting button as their civic duty.
Every few years, there will be a tempest in the Illinois Legislature that the outcome of a particular vote would have been different if only all the lawmakers voted themselves instead of someone else doing it for them.
Such was the case in 2011 when about 20 Democratic House members were off the floor attending one of the day’s three scheduled budget briefings when the ComEd “smart grid” bill, which would raise electric rates, was called for a vote.
Even though the representatives weren’t in the chamber, someone pushed their voting buttons, votes were cast on their behalf and the bill passed.
According to media reports at the time, this is what Gov. Pat Quinn, who opposed the “smart grid” bill, had to say:
“The people of Illinois, I think, back home, if they hear that their legislator was letting some staff member vote their switch or somebody next door to them who wasn’t elected by the people back home, this is not right,” Quinn said. “And the legislators know this.”
Quinn was right.
And yet this type of monkey business continues, and few, if any, in the House or Senate bat an eye over it these days.
Is it asking too much for legislators to cast their own votes?
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.