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EYE ON ILLINOIS: Readers (mostly) encouraged by term limits talk

Judging by reader feedback to Saturday’s column, term limits are a popular idea.

For some, there was joy in revisiting a longtime hobbyhorse. Others wanted to know how to get this particular ball rolling. Some agreed with my assessment that term limits aren’t a cure-all.

Those who have been driving this train for years know term limits can’t happen without amending the state Constitution. When Gov. Bruce Rauner pared his ambitious (and largely failed) Turnaround Agenda from 44 items to seven, passing a term limit amendment survived the cut. 

In a May 2017 research paper for the Southern Illinois University Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, Marnie Leonard examined Rauner’s plan: “The Illinois Constitution should be amended to limit a representative or senator from holding that office or combination of those offices for more than 10 years.” He wanted voters to approve the amendment in 2018, which technically would delay full effect until 2028.

“There is little evidence that newer legislators are less corrupt than the veterans,” Leonard wrote, referencing a 2004 Maine study showing limits increased partisanship and ideological devotion and that “an increase in splinter groups and caucuses made it more difficult for leaders to pull their members into one group together.”

Leonard noted that in January 2017, the Illinois Senate approved enacting 10-year terms for the Senate president and minority leader. Two years later, state Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, took things much further by filing to amend the Constitution to instill eight-year limits for those Senate offices and their House counterparts – or a 12-year limit combined between chambers.

Writing about that proposal, the Illinois Policy Institute’s Vincent Caruso offered an excellent summary: “For a term limits proposal to reach the appropriate substantive committee, and then reach the House floor for a vote, it must first pass the Rules Committee, over which the House speaker holds considerable sway. Sure enough, such resolutions have repeatedly been left to die in Rules.”

Reader Paula Price referenced her Missouri relatives, who complain that, although their state has term limits, the restrictions are on the office, not the politician, so candidates use familiarity on one job to seek another and then another, eventually working up a full-time career.

“If we are to have term limits, there needs to be a buffer time between,” Price wrote. “This method is used in industry. When you retire or resign, you sign an agreement that you won’t work with a vendor in the system for at least a year. Then you could represent the vendor at your old company. It breaks up the good old boy network! No kickbacks!”

Establishing frameworks is a fun thought experiment. Getting lawmakers to agree to limit their own power is a monumental struggle.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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