insight magazine

Capitol Report | Winter 2017

In the Best Interest of the State

The importance of voter literacy, and the coming 2018 midterm elections, should not be overlooked by Illinois voters.
Marty Green, Esq. Senior VP and Legislative Counsel, Illinois CPA Society

Victims of the state’s budget deadlock weren’t only the service providers and vendors that went unpaid, or the Illinois residents who suffered as a result—more than two-dozen veteran Illinois legislators are now retiring or resigning. While “disruption” has become a trendy term, typically proffering a bright, techy future, the loss of these veteran lawmakers will only further disrupt Illinois’ dysfunctional legislative and policy-making processes.

I highlighted this dysfunction in my fall column, “Compromise Polarized,” where I stressed that the polarization of our political processes has deeply impacted our government’s ability to solve both contemporary and long-standing problems. Unfortunately, the loss of two dozen or more veteran lawmakers most likely will only further entrench political polarization and an unwillingness to compromise.

Leaving the General Assembly are prominent figures, such as the majority leaders of the Senate and House and the spokesman of the House Revenue Committee, to name of few. Also included in the exodus are several junior legislators completing just their first or second terms. The consistent reasoning for their departure? The polarized legislative environment, lack of cooperation among the caucuses and the executive branch, and the inability to solve problems.

It is an open question whether this disruption of the legislative benches is a good thing. On one hand, we as Illinois voters have the chance to elect fresh talent with new perspectives; on the other, the legislative and political environment appears to have reached a point where committed public servants are no longer willing to serve.

My initial reaction is that the large exodus of legislators will intensify politics. House and Senate Democrats will have to select new majority leaders in January 2019 when the 101st General Assembly is convened. New committee chairs and minority spokespersons will also be selected. Jockeying has already begun among the remaining legislators hopeful to fill vacant leadership positions. This jockeying includes pecking order of seniority, campaign contribution promises, lobbying of legislators by other legislators, and more—all of which reduce the time and focus of legislators dealing with real issues facing the state today.

From an electoral perspective, many of the departing legislators are party moderates feeling pressure from the far right and left. Of the 24 legislators who have either quit or announced they are not running again, 12 are Democrats and 12 are Republicans. No other General Assembly in recent times has had so many departing legislators. Of the 12 departing Republicans, nine broke ranks with their governor and their caucus when voting on the budget agreement. There’s a feeling that Gov. Rauner will finance candidates to oppose those who broke ranks and challenge incumbent Democrats.

At the end of November, candidates for the General Assembly and state executive offices will file their petitions to appear on the March primary ballot. The decisions made during the March primary election, and ultimately during the November 2018 election, will greatly contribute to the tone and atmosphere of Illinois’ legislative process moving forward. We can impact this process by being educated and active, participatory voters.

Our republic form of government, as provided by the U.S. and Illinois Constitutions, has 17th century origins that inspires “an avowed concern for common good and for participation.”

Ensuring that we elect candidates that possess “an avowed concern for the common good” is something that gets lost in our highly intensified political processes. But now, more than ever, we need leaders throughout government who are committed to collectively working together to solve problems.

In commenting on Illinois’ low credit rating, Fitch Ratings stated “the lack of coherent fiscal policymaking over multiple years has materially damaged Illinois. … The state’s repeated failure to address fiscal policy challenges is the primary driver of our negative bond rating.”

History has shown there has been no better Illinois governor in a more tempestuous era in modern Illinois than Richard Ogilvie. During his single term in office from 1969 to 1973, Ogilvie presided over the most significant reforms enacted in Illinois for more than a century. He proposed the state’s first income tax, which saved the state from fiscal disaster, but cost him reelection.

Ogilvie’s biography is titled “In the Interest of the State.” Now, more than ever, we need officials committed to the best interests of the state. And now, more than ever, we need to ensure we’re making the best choices at the ballot box.

Author’s Note: This column includes my personal observations of the evolution of the legislative environment and are not necessarily the views of the Illinois CPA Society.

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