Recall amendment to state Constitution on Nov. 2 ballot

Voters will be asked Nov. 2 whether they want to amend the Illinois Constitution to allow the public to recall future governors.

If approved, the amendment would set up a system by which voters could remove the governor from office.

Given the fact that two consecutive Illinois governors have been convicted on corruption charges, and that five previous governors have been indicted, supporters say the mechanism is needed to keep the state’s chief executive honest.

“If there’s ever a state government that needs [recall], it’s Illinois. Four of our last eight [elected] governors are convicted felons,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, who authored the amendment. “My sons are 14 and 15 – they have never known a state governor who has not been a convicted felon.”

Supporters argue that recall is needed as a check on gubernatorial power which would increase citizen participation in government. Opponents argue that recall would lead to political games that could prove expensive – the Illinois State Board of Elections estimates the total cost of a recall election could reach $101 million.

Under the amendment, recall would begin if signatures are collected equal to 15 percent of the total votes cast for governor in the previous election. At least 100 signatures each have to come from at least 25 counties. Petitioners would have 150 days to collect the signatures after filing their intent with the state election board.

The petition would then have to be backed by 20 members of the state House and 10 members of the state Senate, with no more than half coming from any one party.

Once the state election board certifies the petition, it has 100 days to hold a special election. People who want to run for governor have 50 days to collect 5,000 voter signatures. If needed, a primary would be held at the time of the recall election.

The governor is immediately removed upon certification of a favorable vote. The next official in the line of succession would become acting governor until a special election is held, no later than 60 days after recall, to choose the successor.

The proposed amendment will become law if it is approved by either 60 percent of the people voting on it, or by a simple majority of those voting in the election.

Although former Gov. Rod Blagojevich set a new standard for corruption as the first Illinois governor to be impeached, he has a lot of company when it comes to indicted governors. Illinois grand juries have indicted seven – four Democrats and three Republicans.

They include Democratic Gov. Joel Aldrich Matteson, who built the present-day Executive Mansion. Matteson was indicted in the late 1850s after he was caught trying to cash about $250,000 in government scrip that he “found” in a shoebox. The grand jury, however, later rescinded the indictment.

Republican Gov. Lennington Small went to trial in 1922 for allegedly embezzling at least $1 million in taxpayer money during his time as secretary of state. A jury found him innocent, but four of the jurors landed state jobs after the trial. Republican Gov. William Stratton was indicted in 1964 on tax fraud charges but was acquitted.

Democratic Gov. Otto Kerner, the first Illinois governor sent to prison, was convicted in 1973 of bribery, fraud and perjury. Kerner was found out because the businesswoman who bribed him deducted it on her income taxes, believing bribery to be a legitimate business expense in Illinois.

Other Illinois governors sent to prison include Democratic Gov. Dan Walker, convicted of bank fraud about a decade after he left office. Blagojevich’s predecessor, Republican George Ryan, is serving a 6½-year sentence at a Terre Haute, Ind., federal prison for racketeering and fraud.

Eighteen states and the District of Columbia allow for voter recall of elected officials to varying degrees, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Eight governors in U.S. history have been impeached, but only two states have recalled governors by popular vote: North Dakota in 1921 and California in 2003.

But Franks said it was a right that Illinois voters should have. Should the amendment be approved, Franks said he would like to expand recall to other elected offices, as he had intended with his first effort to get a recall amendment on the ballot.

“It’s an extraordinary remedy that has been used sparingly, but I wholeheartedly believe that it’s something the citizens need in their arsenal to take back their government,” Franks said.

Voters have approved 10 amendments to the 1970 Constitution, the last being a 1998 amendment regarding the retirement and discipline of state judges. Seven proposed amendments and two calls for a constitutional convention have been defeated.

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