(Capitol Analysis) Governor on safe ground endorsing recall plan

Doug Finke

Frustrated with the train wreck that is the spring 2007 legislative session, Sen. Dan Cronin, R-Elmhurst, and Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn have both called for an amendment to the state constitution that would allow voters to recall state officials, including the governor.

Gov. Rod Blagojevich endorsed the idea.

But even though the idea theoretically could cost him his job, history shows Blagojevich is on safe ground endorsing the recall plan. The odds that a proposed amendment to the state constitution will even make it to the ballot, let alone be approved by voters, are slim at best.

The Illinois constitution hasn't been amended since 1998, when voters approved a provision strengthening the disciplinary process for judges charged with misconduct. That's also the last time voters have had a chance to approve an amendment, even though dozens of possible amendments have been introduced by lawmakers in the years since.

"This is a very status-quo-oriented political system," said Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. "People are really reluctant to make changes in the state constitution."

Under the state constitution, both the House and Senate have to approve a resolution putting a proposed amendment on the ballot. It seldom happens.

From 2003 to 2006, 108 resolutions proposing constitutional amendments were introduced in the House and Senate. Only two of them got a vote of any kind. One of them -- calling for ratification of the equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- actually was approved in the House and passed a Senate committee, but was never called for a vote by the full Senate.

The other amendments ran a gamut of issues -- requiring a super-majority vote to raise taxes, changing terms for lawmakers, returning the state to cumulative voting, prohibiting same-sex marriage, increasing taxes on people making over $250,000, combining the treasurer and comptroller's offices, changing the rules for medical malpractice awards. Many of the same amendments are introduced over and over again.

Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, has repeatedly sponsored an amendment that would limit the amount of road fund money that can be used for expenses other than building roads. It's never come close to being approved, but Bomke is sponsoring another version of it this year.

"You've got to keep drawing attention to (the issue), and hopefully there will be a change," Bomke said. "You can't let it go unnoticed."

Getting publicity for an issue is the sole intent of some constitutional amendments introduced in the General Assembly, Redfield said. As examples, he cited the same-sex marriage amendment and one that would require the governor to live in Springfield while the legislature is in session.

"It's whatever is a hot political issue," Redfield said. "You get mileage out of putting it on the agenda. The audience is not the General Assembly, it's the news media or the interest group."

Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Forsyth, is the sponsor of the amendment that would require the governor to live in Springfield while lawmakers are in session. He agreed that the amendment has symbolic value.

"It really has ramifications for the governor not to be here," he said.

Two resolutions have been filed to add a recall amendment to the constitution -- one by Cronin and the other by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, a frequent Blagojevich critic. Cronin said his resolution is not symbolic.

"It's for real," Cronin said. "This governor, if he was in any other industry, would be summarily removed from his position, either fired by his boss or stockholders and shareholders would demand his removal. This is a crisis, and when there is a crisis, there needs to be dramatic response."

Others aren't so sure.

"If somebody's not doing their job here, they pay the consequences when they're up for re-election," said Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville. "If they do something catastrophic that they need to be removed from office, it is my understanding we have the ability to do that through impeachment."

Asked if Blagojevich has done something catastrophic, Sullivan said, "no."

Cronin acknowledged that getting a recall amendment on the ballot is a long shot.

"The toughest obstacle is going to be right here," Cronin said, pointing to the Senate chamber. "If you put this question to the public, I suspect it would get overwhelming support."

Lawmakers still have months to decide what, if any, amendments will be put before voters. The constitution requires that proposed amendments be approved at least six months before a general election, putting the deadline for approval in early May, 2008.

Doug Finke can be reached at 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.

As of last week, 39 proposed amendments to the Illinois Constitution had been filed by members of the House and Senate. Here's a sampling of them. (Senate Joint Resolutions (SJR) are filed in the Senate while House Joint Resolutions (HJR) are filed in the House. Both chambers must approve the same resolution by a three-fifths vote for the measure to appear on the ballot.)

 SJRCA007 -- Would impose a graduated income tax in Illinois rather than the flat income tax. Also contained in SJR0069 and HJRCA0023.

SJRCA008 -- Stipulates that marriage is only between a man and a woman. Also contained in HJRCA0001.

SJRCA0018 -- Eliminates the office of comptroller and moves its duties to the treasurer's office. .

SJRCA0019 -- Requires that the auditor general be elected rather than appointed.

SJRCA0070 -- Allows Illinois voters to recall elected officials. Also contained in HJRCA0028.

HJRCA0002 -- Ratifies the equal rights amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

HJRCA0005 -- Requires that all four legislative leaders agree to a special session before one can be called. Now, either the governor alone or the House Speaker and Senate President together can call them.

HJRCA0009 -- Requires a three-fifths majority of lawmakers to pass a tax hike.

HJRCA0014 -- Eliminates the comptroller's and treasurer's offices and combines their duties into a newly created State Fiscal Officer.

HJRCA0015 -- Prohibits one person from serving as House speaker or Senate president or a combination of the two for more than 10 years.

 HJRCA0016 -- Prohibits the use of property taxes to fund schools.

HJRCA0019 -- Eliminates the offices of comptroller and treasurer and combines them into a newly created Comptroller of the Treasury.

 HJRCA0024 -- Requires that any pension benefit increase get a two-thirds vote in the General Assembly.

HJRCA0027 -- Requires that except in an emergency, the governor must reside and be present in Springfield when the legislature is in session.