Friday, October 31, 2008

Is it Time for a Con Con -- Part III

Editors note: I did a lot of work researching the Illinois Constitutional Convention; I'm going to post that research that I wrote up here. It should be about five or six parts in all. I'll do a post or two a day.
Part I is here
Part II is here

Gerrymandering: There have been few competitive races throughout the state over the years. Each party has drawn districts so that the Democrats have their seats and the Republicans have their seats. It has allowed the politicians to choose their voters. The 4th and 17th Congressional Districts are probably the most infamous cases of gerrymandering in the state. Supporters of such a change would scrap of the current method of redistricting and would most likely support one of two other systems: an independent redistricting commission or a system similar to that what Iowa uses where a “nonpartisan legislative staff develop maps for the Iowa House and Senate as well as U.S. House districts without any political or election data including the addresses of incumbents.”

Home Rule: One of the major reasons that the 1968 Con Con occurred was because the 1870 constitution, according to some, did not provide local governments enough autonomy. The state had been operating under Dillon’s Rule, which requires state legislative and executive approval for any changes local governments would like to make no matter how small. The famous example that was given in 1970 was that the City of Chicago had to get approval from Springfield to change the color of the lights on its squad cars. Home rule, which freed cities that had populations of 25,000 or more, was written into the 1970 constitution and it liberated cities from the child/parent relationship that had been created. It gave municipalities more authority to raise taxes and borrow money.

The Illinois Municipal League sees little reason to revisit the issue unless delegates want to lower the population threshold. However, the recent financial problems and the tax increases in Cook County and Chicago may, although unlikely, create a grassroots effort to rid the state of Home Rule and go back to Dillon’s Rule.

Open ballots access: If granted, open ballot access would give every person equal access to being on the ballot no matter what party affiliation. Right now, independents and other third parties are often required to obtain more than 10 times the number of signatures that established parties do.

Recall elected officials: According to recent polls, 2 in 3 constituents in Illinois would like the right to recall elected officials. However, the right to recall is denied to voters under the current constitution. Considering dislike with Governor Rod Blagojevich among citizens and the dysfunction in Springfield, the right to recall elected officials figures to be a popular means of selling the Con Con. A majority of states in the U.S. do not allow for the recall of statewide officials.

Selection of Judges: Currently judges are elected to the bench. However, there is a lot of support to change this system to one where judges are chosen by merit. There are quality concerns over electing judges and many feel that partisan politics plays too great of a role in choosing and electing judges. Also the amount of money spent on judicial races is concerning—millions are being spent on some of these races and people worry about where the money comes from especially since judges are expected to be neutral.

However, there would be resistance to changing from the current system to a merit system. In Cook County there is a laundry list of judges and the public does not know whom they are electing because there are so many. This has lead to some unqualified judges being elected. But downstate, the electorate is much more informed about their judges and would resist changing the current system.

If the Con Con changed to a merit based system it would most likely be based on what is called the Missouri plan. The plan calls for a non-partisan judicial commission who chooses three candidates to fill a bench seat. The governor then selects one of three candidates. Yet such a system would face a battle over who would select the commission. Also and whether the governor, legislature, or the state Supreme Court would be given the power to select the judges would have to be decided.

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