SPRINGFIELD – As lawmakers with 60 years of experience among them, three of four Republican candidates for governor in Illinois have crafted careful positions on the subject of mandatory term limits.
One of them, state Sen. Bill Brady, supports limits for all lawmakers and the governor. Two others, state Sen. Kirk Dillard and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, said only the roles of legislative leaders should be capped, according to their answers on a campaign questionnaire from The Associated Press.
The term limits issue, long popular with voters but never adopted in Illinois, was forced into the campaign by the fourth contender, Bruce Rauner, a Winnetka businessman who has never held office and is pushing for a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would limit legislators to eight years. But he wouldn’t legally limit a governor’s tenure, instead promising to “self-impose” an eight-year limit on himself if he wins.
For months, discussion of the issue has overlapped with another central issue in the governor’s race – whether Illinois wants a “career politician” or a self-styled “outsider” to run the state for the next four years, and for that matter, how exactly to define a career politician.
“When Bruce stands here and says the three of us are part of the problem – all three of us are citizen legislators,” Dillard, a 20-year senator who also is a partner at a Chicago law firm, said at a candidate debate. “We all have private sector experience ... I’m not part of the problem.”
The ballot proposal would place the eight-year limits on members of the Senate and House, among other structural changes to the Legislature. Nationwide, more than 20 states have adopted limits, but only about a dozen actually use them because some were either thrown out by courts or repealed.
Mark Campbell, spokesman for a Rauner-backed Term Limits and Legislative Reform Committee, said the initiative is approaching the 300,000 signatures needed by a May 6 deadline to put the measure on the ballot.
“Term limits is not a cure-all, but in a state as corrupt as Illinois, [it] will help eliminate the incentives for self-dealing and will help make politics about public service again,” Rauner wrote in his AP questionnaire.
But his opponents have derided the term-limit push as a “gimmick” that Rauner is using to boost his own campaign without considering negative effects in Springfield. They said the limits restrict voters’ right to choose the representative they want, deprive the lawmaking process of experience and inadvertently empower state bureaucrats.
Brady has been a senator since 2002 and served in the House for eight years before that. But he regularly talks about his work running a family-owned construction company as well as real estate business in Bloomington as evidence of what he calls his pro-business platform.
He has been vocal in backing term limits. He points to past term-limit legislation he’s sponsored, and says 10-year limits of service should be placed on members of each chamber, with statewide officers, including the governor, able to serve only one, four-year term.
He argues that the Legislature’s real problem is unrestricted terms for legislative leaders. He and others note that House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat, has controlled his chamber for almost 30 years.
That also is the thrust of Dillard’s arguments. The Hinsdale Republican supports limits for legislative leaders, but not for rank and file lawmakers, contending that allowing voters to vote politicians out of office is “quicker and better.”
Dillard, a senator since 1994, regularly touts his government experience working for former Republican governors Jim Edgar and Jim Thompson. In the AP questionnaire, he wrote that Rauner’s proposal, particularly the element that consolidates Senate districts, would reduce downstate Illinois’ influence “while further empowering Chicago leaders.”
He stresses that the governorship isn’t an “entry-level job.” But he also notes that Rauner has worked with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and others on school reform and other political causes.
“Bruce Rauner is the king of all pay-to-play politics in the history of Illinois,” Dillard said.
Rutherford was in the House for 18 years before being elected treasurer in 2010. But he describes himself as a “citizen legislator” who simultaneously amassed decades of business experience with the ServiceMaster company, working to help the company expand licensing services abroad.
The Chenoa Republican says he only favors limiting the terms of legislative leaders, which would “discourage a consolidation of power in a few positions of influence not directly accountable to the voters.”
“I have been around as a citizen legislator enough to know what needs to get done,” Rutherford said. “I know the skill set it will take to turn Illinois around.”