Monday, November 3, 2008

Is it Time for a Con Con -- Part VI

Editors note: This is the last one. I swear. Enjoy. Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Part V

The issues that supporters of a Con Con have been laid out, but what do groups who are against calling for a Con Con believe? Or at least, what do they argue as to why the state should not rewrite the constitution?

Opponents to a Con Con will quickly point out that there are no single issues, which calls for a convention. And given the current political infighting in Springfield, opponent’s figure those differences will carry onto a convention. But maybe most importantly, the current Constitution can be changed—amendments can be added to the Constitution. And since this option is available, this is the route that policy makers should take rather than calling a convention where no one knows what the resulting document would look like.

Few people who follow Illinois state politics would claim that the current problems in the state are related to the structure of the government—rather most people would agree the problems the state is currently going though are due to politics. And while the Constitution is not perfect, opponent’s claim that there is no one single issue that should lead voters to call for a convention. So the fixing the Constitution does need can be fixed though the underutilized legislative amendment mechanism .

The General Assembly can advance a constitutional amendment to voters if both houses agree with a three-fifths super majority. However, the General Assembly has been conservative about using the Legislative Amendment process. Since the current Constitution was written, the legislature has advanced only sixteen proposed amendments of which nine have been adopted . In 2006 and thus far in 2008, the legislature has not proposed any amendments to the constitution. And, ten of the proposals over “the last 37 years have dealt with arcane issues of relative political ease, yet limited substance,” according to the Illinois Business Roundtable.

Other means of changing the constitution like a citizen’s initiative, have had been unsuccessful for the most part and, as noted above, would be a topic of conversation at a convention. Therefore, the legislature is the only branch of government in the state that can amend the constitution. And, the legislature is reluctant to change itself. As Ann Lousin, a law professor at John Marshall said, a constitutional convention and the legislature are “natural enemies.”

So why even have a constitutional convention? Is the political gridlock in Springfield, where hundreds of bills attempting to change or reform the current policy problems the state faces, sit idly, enough of a reason to call for a constitutional convention? The constitutional change that some would like to make can be changed through the legislative amendment process, but since it has not been used very often in the last 38 years, is this a reason to call for a convention? Or is it that the reason we have not seen changes to something like, say the income tax, because there just is not enough popular support behind such a reform? And of course, a convention does not guarantee that the problems the state faces will be fixed with a new constitution.

In the end, a Con Con is a situation of risk and reward. How much of a risk are constituents willing to take for a reward, i.e. progress, in the structure and policies of the state government. Something good and something bad will come out of a Con Con for everyone and each voter or interest group needs to figure the odds that a Con Con would produce the results they so desire. As Steven Pflaum of the Chicago Bar Association asked, “Is the status quo so bad that we should risk making it worse to make it better?” That is something every voter will have to weigh in their minds when they vote on November 4th.

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