The quest for term limits on lawmakers in Illinois may appear to be dead in the water, but the proponents for the effort aren’t throwing in the towel yet.
The Chicago-based First District Appellate Court has agreed to an expedited appeals process in order to have the matter decided by Aug. 22, the deadline for when ballot measures must be approved by state election officials.
Last week the Illinois Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal in favor of a proposed November ballot measure that would ask voters if state lawmakers should be limited to serving eight years in office. Last month the court ruled the initiative didn’t pass constitutional muster and could not be placed on the ballot.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner is leading the charge for term limits legislation.
“We’ve lost our way as a state,” Rauner said in a press conference in Chicago last week. “Corruption, cronyism, patronage, and folks who have been down there (in Springfield) for decades who use politics as a personal business for themselves, as a way of making money.”
Rauner said voters, and not “politicians and special interests groups,” should decide if limiting terms in public office is right for Illinois.
The proposed constitutional change would also increase the number of Illinois House members and raise the number of votes required to override a governor’s veto.
Nick Tomboulides is the executive director of U.S. Term Limits, a Florida-based group that works towards term limit reform around the country. He says the failure for the ballot referendum to succeed in the Illinois courts is because the judges are succumbing to political pressure.
Judges have political agendas too, argues Tomboulides, and are closely affiliated with the politicians fighting against term limits the hardest.
“The pushback against this reform isn’t coming from the people of Illinois,” Tomboulides said. “Most polls have term limits receiving at least 70 percent support. The pushback is coming from entrenched politicians, some with decades of time in Springfield, who are desperate to keep the status quo.”
Term Limits and Reform, the Illinois group heading the effort to place the referendum on November ballots, has reportedly collected more than 550,000 signatures from residents in support of the measure.
Tomboulides said he thinks there’s a good chance the appeals court will rule that the referendum measure is constitutional, and voters will have a chance to express their opinion on Election Day.
“Term limits means more open-seat races every cycle,” Tomboulides said, “which allows more citizens the opportunity to serve their state. Incumbents create a barrier to entry into public service because they almost always win their races. Term limits will create a far more competitive political field.”
Not everyone agrees that term limits are a good thing, however. Monmouth College Political Economy and Commerce professor and former state Sen. Ken McMillan says he doesn’t believe mandated term limits is a wise policy, as sometimes politicians deserve the boot after one term, whereas others can serve honestly and honorably for many years.
“I think term limits is more likely to further dumb down the public’s knowledge of political affairs. When they are less responsible for who gets elected since it won’t last long anyway, they’ll put less effort into being seriously engaged,” McMillan said.
“Our problem is not that some people have been there too long,” he said. “Term limits won’t solve anything. Unfortunately, not a lot of people pay attention to how their representatives or senators vote. They’re more interested in if they walk in their hometown parade and show up at their chicken dinners.”
According to McMillan, voters tend to focus more on how politicians handle constituent service like fundraisers and public appearances than the impact they actually have on public policy.
With the expedited appeals process under way, voters can expect to see the Illinois Supreme Court arguing and ruling on the constitutionality of the term limits referendum in the next few weeks.
Brady Cremeens is a reporter for Illinois News Network.