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Good ideas, limits help democracy
Daily Herald Editorial Board
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Published: 5/15/2009 12:00 AM

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For as long as we can recall, here is how it's done in Springfield: If you're a legislator with a proposal for something the House speaker or the Senate president doesn't like, it dies. It goes to a committee and it dies. Maybe your idea threatens the re-election of the majority party's members. Maybe it hurts a union or lawyers or a business group or someone else with clout. If the House speaker or the Senate president doesn't like your idea, you're doomed.

Requiring floor votes on any idea that wins the sponsorship of 16 House members or eight Senate members would fix that problem. Placing ten-year term limits on the two Democratic and two Republican legislative leaders in Springfield also would do wonders to open up the process. It would reduce the potential for a stranglehold on the system by one person.

Many Illinoisans who are following efforts to fix corruption seem to support term limits on all politicians. Illinois Reform Commission members say they've learned widespread term limits are widely and wildly popular.

We historically have not favored general term limits for elected officials. We value experience and institutional memory. And we agree with those who believe term limits for all politicians would make it too inviting for all of us to check out; to abdicate our responsibilities as citizens to evaluate those who seek to represent us.

Illinois voters do not elect the speaker, Senate president and minority party leaders. Legislators do. So when good ideas are killed by legislative leaders, voters have no recourse. That is not democracy. It more closely resembles dictatorship.

Not surprisingly, some media are reporting that the proposals to impose 10-year term limits on legislative leaders and to allow full debate and floor votes on ideas that garner decent support already have been killed. House Speaker Michael J. Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, Democrats, are to blame if that turns out to be true. Will preserving their self-interests take precedence over ours?

We're confident if these two ideas were called for votes on secret ballots, they would easily pass.

As it stands now, these excellent ideas either won't get a hearing, or they will, and any legislator who dares vote for them risks the wrath of their leader and no help at re-election time.

Former Senate President James "Pate" Philip, a Wood Dale Republican, was in a top leadership slot for 20 years before he retired. There is a new senate president now, but Speaker Madigan has been his chamber's Democratic leader for 28 years.

Experience is valuable, but a government that truly is a representative democracy "for the people" is even more valuable. Legislators are going to have to band together to demand these changes. That won't happen unless citizens who care speak up for themselves.