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Schaumburg: There's a catch with term limits

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I am a strong believer in less government, and less money and influence in government.

Regular readers of my column here and in DeKalb know this to be true. I’m in favor of school district consolidation, elimination of township government and the enaction of term limits at all levels of government.

Let’s get this out of the way. Yes, in some abstract, far-reaching way, we have term limits. Voters can vote out lawmakers during elections. Yes, I get it.

But I also know, as I’ve written before, we live in a world where if more than 20 percent of registered voters cast a ballot, we’re throwing a party. Many who vote don’t study the candidates or the issues. Many votes are cast strictly along party lines.

If government is going to meddle with democracy, this is one area where it should focus. We need to limit the amount of time lawmakers spend in office so that we limit the amount of influence money and lobbyists have on our government.

Remember, public policy is now dictated by who has the most money, not by what’s best for our state or country.

Of course, enacting term limits in Illinois faces as big an uphill battle as taking redistricting out of lawmakers’ hands.

As Republican candidate for governor Bruce Rauner pointed out Tuesday when he spoke to business leaders at Turnberry Country Club, term limits won’t get done because lawmakers – many of whom seek to make a career out of politics – won’t let it.

Term limits are a threat to the power structure that has been created and taken advantage of in Springfield. See, Michael Madigan.

“Illinois voters are fed up with the callous unresponsiveness of entrenched political insiders. At a time when the state has monumental budget problems and is in serious need of meaningful tax reform, most Illinois General Assembly members are more concerned with giving themselves a pay raise.”

Do you know who wrote that? Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn. In 1994.

Replace “most Illinois General Assembly members are more concerned with giving themselves a pay raise” with “most Illinois General Assembly members are more concerned with taking me to court over suspended paychecks,” and the statement stands today.

Quinn, who was state treasurer in 1994, led a petition drive to get term limits on the ballot as a statewide referendum. He collected 437,088 signatures (hat tip to McHenry County Board member Michael Walkup for reminding me of Quinn’s effort).

But – there’s always a but in Illinois politics – the Chicago Bar Association wasn’t having it. The association filed suit against the Illinois State Board of Elections in an attempt to keep the referendum off the ballot, arguing the proposal was not suitable for a citizen-initiated referendum.

The Illinois Supreme Court inexplicably sided with the CBA, and Illinois voters weren’t allowed to weigh in.

So, for term limits to get enacted in Illinois, it will take either another signature drive and legal fight, or lawmakers to pass legislation limiting their own terms.

Let me give you a moment while you catch your breath after laughing so hard ...

• Jason Schaumburg is editor of the Northwest Herald. He is slightly annoyed but not surprised that coaches in the USA Today college football preseason poll showed no love for Northern Illinois University. Reach him at 815-459-4122 or via email at jschaumburg@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Schaumy.

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