Yes. Responsiveness to voters, not extending careers, should guide those who run for office
By JIM COXWORTH
Absolutely, Illinois needs legislative term limits. One of the largest problems with important legislative positions in state government is that they tend to attract those who are interested in power and money. While these officials are elected to represent the people who vote for them, they tend to represent themselves. Our statewide politicians know that once they are in office, they have over a 95 percent chance of being re-elected! Since there is little chance of losing their seat in the legislature, incumbents begin to take advantage of the system for their own benefit, not ours.
As lobbyists and special interest groups wine and dine our politicians, corruption begins to creep into their decisions. They begin to make decisions based on friends, favors and what may be financially expedient for them. Legislators may be involved in governmental plans and developments where they acquire insider information before such developments are made public. Often, our legislators will use this insider information to personally invest in projects they know will be financially lucrative. Often the developers in such plans allow our politicians to personally invest in these projects in order to secure their votes. In this way and in countless other ways, corruption is always lurking. When your goal is to become a career politician and not a public servant, there is a conflict of interest between you and the citizens you represent.
Term limits mitigates these conflicts in several ways. Since all politicians understand that their service is for a limited time, decisions are no longer driven only by extending their career as a politician. It attracts officials who want to serve their constituents and not themselves. You get a different stripe of politician attracted to states with term limits. A politician who wants to serve and return to private life.
Term limits will also bring in new members with new ideas and creative approaches to the myriad of problems our state faces. With the world rapidly changing, new approaches and new perspectives will be necessary to solve the problems in a rapidly changing world.
Term limits will put a damper on the runaway costs of elections. Since state legislators will only serve for a short time, elections will be less about raising money and more about the issues that concern voters. Today, lobbyists and special interest groups use huge campaign contributions to influence our politicians, often to the detriment of the rest of society. Big contributors will no longer be able to “buy” a legislator for decades.
Instituting term limits will put an end to “career” politicians. Legislators that go to Springfield and never want to leave. The longer elected officials stay in office the less they care about us, the voters. Under the current system, when elected, legislators become part of a dysfunctional political system that encourages them to get in line and do what you’re told. To vote as you’re told. If they do that, they’ll be protected by their powerful legislative leader and they can remain in office as long as they want, while enjoying the perks and sweetheart pensions that come with longevity of service. Term limits will put our government back in the hands of the voters. There will no longer be a “career” for politicians.
Term limits will also drastically reduce the power of our state legislative leaders. Rank and file legislators who want to keep getting elected become beholden to their respective leaders and not the voters. The Speaker of the House, the Senate president as well as both minority leaders are the bosses they listen to. These leaders control their fate because they control the money career legislators need to remain in office. Millions of dollars are at stake and this money is used to ensure incumbent legislators, who toe the line, are reelected. Today in Illinois, because of the money controlled by the leaders in each party, 65 percent of our races are unopposed. The campaign money scares off potential competitors and reduces our choices as voters. It ensures the status quo!
To those who criticize term limits by saying that new legislators will be inexperienced in government and will be even more influenced by lobbyists and special interest groups, I respectfully disagree. Many of the politicians running for state government will come from the ranks of local legislators who will already understand the nuances of policy and government.
To those who say term limits will remove some “good” politicians, they are probably correct. Unfortunately, civic-minded politicians are in the minority and their loss, while regrettable, will pave the way for the greater good. Term limits will ensure that a majority of politicians are civic-minded and serving their constituents, instead of serving themselves.
We have seen the results of career politicians in our state. Illinois is a state with rampant corruption, crushing debt, hundreds of billions in unfunded pension obligations and some of the highest taxes in the nation. We need to change the system that brought us to the brink of bankruptcy. It is time for this state to adopt term limits for its 177 legislators. Eighty percent of voters are in favor of term limits, but the question never appears on a ballot. Career politicians and their legislative leaders are deathly afraid of the outcome if it was ever put to a vote. I say, let the voters decide, this is our state, not theirs. I say let’s quit debating and put it to a vote. That is democracy! For more information on term limits, go to illinoiscitizenuprising.com.
Jim Coxworth is founder of Illinois Citizen Uprising. He wrote this column at the request of the Illinois Business Journal.