Mertis of constitutional convention debated

Adriana Colindres

A new constitutional convention could remedy Illinois’ dysfunctional government, or it could prove to be an expensive and non-productive endeavor.

Those were the basic positions spelled out Thursday by the two factions sparring over whether Illinois voters should vote “yes” or “no” on whether to call a constitutional convention. They appeared at a meeting of the (Springfield) State Journal-Register editorial board.

The constitutional convention question must be put to voters at least once every 20 years, and it will appear on ballots for the Nov. 4 general election. Calling a constitutional convention would allow elected delegates to come up with recommended revisions to the state charter.

Delegates could propose a wide range of changes to the constitution, such as permitting the recall of elected officials before their terms expire and changing the state’s tax structure. Any revisions ultimately would go to voters for their approval.

Supporters of a “con-con” said state government’s gridlock can’t get much worse and that a convention could lead to improvements.

“I don’t see how it’s going to get better unless we do something drastic,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock, a backer of the constitutional convention.

“The process is broken,” said Bruno Behrend, a Chicago-area attorney and radio talk show host who supports a new constitutional convention. “There’s no new people getting into the process.”

Opponents of a constitutional convention said lawmakers could act on recall, taxes and other issues without the need for a constitutional convention.

They also said the existing document is fundamentally sound and that state government’s problems are largely caused by personality conflicts among individual key players. A con-con would cost millions of dollars, they added.

Kevin Semlow of the Illinois Farm Bureau, which opposes a constitutional convention, said calling one now would be akin to replacing every part on a car just because it got a flat tire.

“You’re probably going to break something that works pretty well,” he said.

Behrend countered that Semlow’s comparison isn’t valid.

“This is a jalopy that has broken down all over the place,” Behrend said.

Adriana Colindres can be reached at (217) 782-6292