Ethics Reform in Illinois

Ethics reform in Springfield is about 30 years overdue.  The very structure of our government breeds corruption. Power is funneled from the people through the local governments to the state government and ultimately, the leadership in the Illinois House and Senate. This has led to the conviction of two governors of corruption-related crimes, indictments of a number of senators and legislators and now the investigation of the Speaker of the House himself. If ever there was a time for a change, it is now.

House Democrats have just listed reforms that they think need to happen right after the general election in November. Some of these reforms echo reforms proposed by Republicans in 2019 especially those calling for a true definition of a lobbyist, not allowing recently unemployed legislators to be lobbyists and prohibiting state government representatives from lobbying at the local level. Some are new including strengthening the Legislative Inspector General, setting term limits for leadership and allowing for censure.

These reforms are a good start but fall woefully short. First, the reforms on lobbying should have been passed in June of this year. I do really like the idea of term limits for leadership. In fact, I would like to see them take it further and ensure it is a lifetime term limit as in one person can only hold the position of Speaker of the House or President of the Senate for a maximum of 8 years total. This would prevent stepping down for a legislative session and getting another set of terms. Also, I like the idea of giving the Legislative Inspector General sharper teeth. However, these reforms still leave the General Assembly only accountable to itself. Until we make the General Assembly accountable to local government and local governments accountable to the people we will never see true ethics reform.


I don’t think these measures will be voted on until after the election. This is unfortunate because the only reason ethics is seen as an issue by the democrats is obviously because this is an election year. Otherwise, they would have called the very similar republican-led ideas up for discussion and a vote. If we wait until the veto session, the main reason for the democrats addressing the issue will be lost. Therefore we need the General Assembly to deal with ethics in a special session soonest. The reason I don’t see this coming to a vote, if it does at all, is because the Speaker has shown that he cares more about his personal power than the integrity of the General Assembly. Specifically, the call for term limits to leadership will undermine his position in the House. So, I don’t think that crucial element of reform will even make it out of committee.

I would like to see Governor Pritzker call for a special session to address ethics reform now. I would like to see him pressure Madigan to push for all 9 recommendations and any recommendations brought forth by the republicans in 2019 not covered in those 9 to get to a vote. I would like to see him condemn the behavior of Com Ed. Finally, I’d like to see him call for Madigan to relinquish his post as Speaker of the House immediately.

It is high time for Illinois to have a government that is of the people, by the people, for the people and accountable to the people.


COVID-19

I’m sorry I have been silent for so long. I have been obsessed with COVID-19. In fact, I am staging a walk to the place where the governor of IL is doing his public briefings on the subject.

I have seen so many friends whose lives have been forever altered by the disease. I have also seen more friends whose lives may be forever altered by the stay in place order.

I am lucky enough to be able to work from home most days, but I do go to work once a week and shop. When I do, I keep 6ft from others and wear a mask to protect others when I can’t keep my distance. The social distancing orders do make sense.

The everyone stay in place also makes sense until the curve is flattened. This is supposed to happen by mid-May in IL. At that point, the stay in place order becomes as dangerous as if not more dangerous than the disease.

So, we are walking and following the CDC social distancing order. We want to show the public health officials who are informing the governor that we can follow it. We want to show people who are concerned about opening that people can survive outside if we follow the recommendations. We want to show the people who want to throw the doors open what we the people need to be willing to do to make that happen.

Govern or Represent?

Do we elect people to government so they can represent us or govern us? This is the question we the people need to ask ourselves each election cycle if we are to create a government that is truly for each of us. In order to answer the question, I think we need to define the concepts, look at how the government looks when each is the focus, and decide which we want our elected officials to have as their guiding principal.

Let’s first take a look at govern. Merriam Webster Online has several meanings: to exercise continuous sovereign authority over especially to control and direct the making and administration of policy in, to rule without sovereign power and usually without having the authority to determine basic policy, to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of, to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over, to hold in check and to exercise authority. From looking at these definitions, it is plain to see they have the same substance but a very different flavor. Luckily, we can rule one out. The second can’t apply, because all forms of are Constitutionally given the ability to make and administer policy. So, that means the first and the last are exactly what the government is given to do by the people through the U.S. Constitution. The middle three are up for interpretation. Is a government by the people actually for the people when its purpose is “to control, direct, or strongly influence the actions and conduct of” the people or when its purpose is ” to exert a determining or guiding influence in or over” the people or when its purpose is “to hold in check” behaviors of the people. In my opinion, government by the people is only for the people when it holds the behaviors of individual people in check when those behaviors would harm other people. That said, I don’t think this can be a guiding principle. It is too easy to decide that the only way to check the bad behaviors of individuals is to control the behavior of all individuals.

So, does the key lie in the definition of represent? There are many definitions on Merriam Online, but the only ones that I see that apply to behavior of people in government are these: to take the place of in some respect, to act in the place of or for usually by legal right, to serve especially in a legislative body by delegated authority usually resulting from election . The last is the dictionary definition of what it means to be a representative of the people in a government of the people. The others informs what “to serve” means in that definition. To serve in government means a representative is taking the place of each person and to act in place of each person represented. Could this definition help a government by the people hold the bad behaviors of individuals in check without leading to controlling all individuals? It is possible. If a representative keeps in mind that the will of the people must always be at the forefront of any decision, yes. However, what is the will of the people? What if the will of the people is morally ambiguous or, worse out right evil? Does the representative have to be literally the replacement for the people represented in every situation? Let’s look at how each makes a government behave.

For me, I don’t have to theorize how putting “governing” first looks. We have people doing that at every level. We have Federal “legislators” who are so concerned about how they feel about each other that they refuse to govern. In many states we have red flag laws that eliminate due process for every citizen because of the behavior of a few citizens. In Illinois, we have legislators who want to pass laws to prevent us from pumping gas, influence our choice of bags at the supermarket, choose what we can plant in our garden, choose what is taught in our schools, prevent us from protecting our children from overtesting, force us to give our children the HPV vaccine, force us to give up our retirement for themselves and other public sector employees, the list goes on. The result of wrenching this control from us and local government is that taxpayers pay nearly the highest taxes in the nation and almost every level of government in Illinois is deep in debt. We have a Township supervisor who has broken the law because he feels he has the authority to implement his will on the people because it is his duty to govern. So, governing for governing’s sake seems to have some serious flaws.

Let’s look at what a government that solely represents the people looks like. First, there needs to be many channels of communication. Second, the representative has to have a way of sorting through the information. So, I see a lot of polling happening. This will be good for reaching a lot of people. However, it only reaches the people who decide to answer poll. So, it will be incumbent upon the representative to convince people that it is in their best interest to answer the poll. Also, polling can’t effectively do a deep dive into issues. For that, I have heard focus groups do very well. However, the group for each issue needs to be representative of the representative’s district or there need to be enough groups for that issue that the representative learns what the people of the district collectively want. Also, the people need to inform themselves on the issues that they respond to polls or sit in focus groups for. So, this model is very labor intensive for both the representative and the people. Also, we haven’t even talked about the fact that in this model, the representative cannot vote his conscience. So, is there a way to combine the two?

I think so. I think we need to have a representative governing model. In this model, the representative is required to be clear on what issues she will not budge and which he is willing to compromise. The representative is required to solicit information from constituents on all issues before voting in committee and/or on the floor by the state. The representative is also required to keep the lines of communication open with all constituents. However, the local governing body can choose to set rules on how to get the information and on how many people the representative must reach out to. The representative then should represent the people in his district to her best ability. This entails voting based as bid by citizens in the district unless counter to the policies originally set forth as a candidate or if the vote would go against the candidate’s moral code. The only enforcement for this provision is for the people in the district to express their displeasure at the ballot box unless the actions of the representative herself performed an illegal act. Then there should be measures in place to remove the representative. This is what we should have now. This is exactly the intent of the U.S. Constitution for members of the House.

Why the essay? This is my promise to you. I care about fixing property taxes without crippling public schools. I care about making the property tax process equitable. I care about making this a state where everyone can retire comfortably. I care about legislating at the right level for the people to hold representatives accountable and at the right level to provide services or prevent behavior most efficiently and equally. Beyond that, I am your representative. I will be polling and holding focus groups. I am asking for your help to best represent everyone in the 62nd.

Together we must right the ship that is Illinois. Together we can right this ship. Together we will right this ship.

Corruption in Illinois

A study published on 2/11/2020, https://pols.uic.edu/chicago-politics/, found that the northern Illinois court district that includes Chicago is the most corrupt in the nation and that Illinois itself is the 3rd most corrupt. In line with this result is that the highest population cities and states tend to be the most corrupt. So, the conclusion can be drawn that the more people an elected official represents, the more likely it is that that official will succumb to temptation.

This is something the authors of the Constitution knew well. In fact, that is why they enumerated the powers of the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Unfortunately, starting in 1920, the Supreme Court has ruled that the Commerce Clause basically gives the Federal Government carte blanche in making laws that affect individual citizens’ lives. This has led states to do the same. So, we have the situation we are in today.

What is the solution? Decentralize control. Put the power in the hands of the government entity that is both at the right level to handle the problem and that provides the most access for general citizens to correct its behavior, if necessary.

Will this completely eliminate corruption? Of course not. Avon Township Supervisor is a fine example of someone whose behavior has needed correction for too long. However, after nearly two years of corrupt behavior, the people of Avon Township are holding him accountable and repeatedly showing up to meetings to voice their displeasure. Imagine having to drive to Springfield or Washington DC to force the issue. The average person doesn’t have the money for that, let alone the poorest.

This is why we having services provided be at the level that can best provide the service and be policed by the average citizen is the best remedy for corruption.