Edgar on term limits: Good politics, bad governing

Apr 08, 2014

Bruce Rauner’s term limits proposal is smart politics, but not good governing.”

That’s the opinion of former Illinois Gov. Jim Edgar, who spoke at a term limits symposium co-hosted by the Better Government Association, the Union League Club of Chicago and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University. Edgar, who campaigned for Kirk Dillard against Rauner in the Republican primary, said Rauner’s proposal is a good way to stir up interest and excitement in voters, but it would be a bad practice to adopt if Rauner were to win the race for governor.

Because the Illinois constitution requires that citizen ballot initiatives involve the structure of the legislature, Rauner’s amendment also would increase the size of the Illinois House, reduce the size of the Senate and change the number of votes to override a governor’s veto from three-fifths majorities to two-thirds.

Term limits, Edgar believes, would really switch the power in government over to the executive branch and would disrupt the balance between the legislative and executive branches.

Rauner’s proposal is for legislative members to be out of office after eight years. If passed and adopted into the Illinois Constitution, it would take effect eight years from now. But for an idea of the turnover term limits would produce, all of these legislators would be out if the term limit proposal had been set in place eight years ago. That’s a lot of turnover.

And that’s what Edgar is wary of.

“I’ve never been excited about term limits for the legislative branch,” Edgar said. “The ability to find common ground makes a democracy work. I would worry that rapid turnover would affect that.”

Edgar explained that without term limits, legislators can stay in office even while governors come and go. That provides for stability and a balance that Edgar believes works pretty well.

“We also don’t know what will happen [with term limits],” Edgar said. “The last thing the Illinois state government needs is chaos. We need stability to fix the state.”

While Edgar is opposed to term limits for legislators, he is not opposed to term limits for the positions of power in the legislature, specifically the speaker of the house.

“The problem in Illinois isn’t turnover, we have pretty good turnover,” Edgar said. “The problem is the Speaker [Michael Madigan] has been there over 30 years. I swore him in.

“If Michael Madigan isn’t still the Speaker of the House, I don’t think we have this discussion [about the need for term limits].”

Edgar, using Madigan as an example, said when a lawmaker is in power for that long, they believe they’re infallible. He quoted the saying “absolute power corrupts.” The problem, Edgar believes, with trying to get Madigan out of office via the term limit route is it’s a solution to a problem that will go away with time since Madigan is already in his 70s.

Madigan is the smartest guy in Springfield,” Edgar said, “But eventually [he] will leave on his own. If they pass [term limits], he’ll stay on for eight years just to spite everyone.”

Along with term limits, the other big change being pushed in Illinois this year is the redistricting reform effort, and that’s something Edgar says he supports. In fact, he believes taking back control of the drawing of legislative districts will solve more problems than instituting term limits will.

“Really what we need to change is legislative districts,” Edgar said. “Often on Election Day, voters have no choice.”

Reform is a top priority in Illinois this year. Here are some more items on the efforts across the state.

 Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel thinks we need to reform the current ystem for drawing legislative maps. 

And so do some GOP political candidates. Here’s an opposing view on redistricting from the executive director of the Institute for Work and the Economy. 

Even Jon Stewart and the Daily Show have noticed Illinois’ strange way of drawing maps. 

Make a difference in Illinois today by signing the Yes for Independent Maps petition. 

If Illinois had a term limit law on the books, a lot of lawmakers would no longer be in office. See who’s been in Springfield longer than eight years.

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