SPRINGFIELD – A few months ago, Mike Madigan startled folks across the state by calling for an amendment to the state constitution.
The longtime House speaker wanted to allow the state to tack on a 3 percent surcharge on folks earning more than $1 million.
The crafty politician let it be known that he wanted lawmakers to put the matter on the ballot so the people could decide whether it’s good public policy. But the measure didn’t gather sufficient support to be placed on the ballot.
So it died.
Proposed constitutional amendments can be placed on the ballot by legislative action or through a difficult process of collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures from across the state.
Madigan saw how difficult it was to pass the measure through the House that he has ruled for decades and let it drop despite his populist rhetoric about letting the voters decide.
But Madigan isn’t always so open to the will of the “people.”
A case in point is two constitutional amendments that are to be placed on the ballot through petition drives.
One would limit lawmakers to serving no more than eight years in the General Assembly. For some reason, Madigan who has served in the Legislature for 41 years, thinks this is a terrible idea.
Another would eliminate legislative gerrymandering. It would create an independent commission to draw the lines for legislative districts in a manner void of any political considerations.
Madigan, who has hung on to power by drawing maps that benefit his supporters in the Legislature, really hates this idea too.
In fact, no sooner were the petitions filed in Springfield than an attorney filed a lawsuit in an attempt to thrown them off the ballot. While there are a variety of plaintiffs in the case, there is little doubt Madigan is behind it.
So, Mike, whatever happened to just letting the people decide? Madigan said the amendments were part of some diabolical plot to help Republicans win elected office.
“The difference between the two parties in Illinois is the Democratic Party of Illinois is a party of progress,” he said. “We want to move forward. We want to help people. We want to help people get jobs and have opportunity. On the other side of the equation, the Republican party is a party of reaction.”
Except, Mike, while you say you want to help ordinary people, it appears you just don’t want them to decide what constitutional amendments they can vote on.
Why else would you try to keep these measures off the ballot?
The move is not only paternalistic, but it’s also hypocritical.
One day, Madigan says it should be left up to the “people” to say how a tiny minority of individuals should be taxed. And the next week, he says it shouldn’t be left to the “people” to decide how their state constitution is amended.
The message seems to be that Madigan knows what is best for Illinois – and don’t tell him otherwise.
But the will of those hundreds of thousands of Democrats, Republicans and independents who signed those petitions to place the measures on the ballot should be honored.
It’s time for the people, not the politicians, to decide what’s best for Illinois.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.