Sick of Illinois’ storied history of corruption?
A pair of Republicans say they’ve got a remedy: Create a pathway for voters to initiate the recall of their elected official, midterm.
“The politicians need to start looking over their shoulder a little bit,” said state Rep. Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield.
Illinois already has a recall provision for Illinois governor.
Voters approved an amendment to the state constitution in 2010 to allow for the recall of the governor, at the urging of then-Gov. Pat Quinn, who took over after former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was arrested, impeached and removed from office.
But state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, says that recall provision is basically toothless.
“It’s in name only, no one would be able to use it. It’s nearly impossible to use,” Barickman said.
The process is certainly complicated; it requires a lot voters to sign a petition, and signatories must come from at least 25 Illinois counties. Voters can’t do it alone, either. They must have what critics have called a “permission slip” — the signoff of a bipartisan group of sitting state representatives and senators.
Barickman and Batinick propose a trio of constitutional amendments which would refine the process for recalling the governor while also creating provisions to oust all other statewide officials, the speaker of the House and president of the state Senate, the auditor general and all members of the state legislature, as well as local officials.
Batinick says he can think of situations at each level of government where there’s been corruption, but he says what’s going on now with House Speaker Michael Madigan is most salient.
Madigan has been implicated in a long-running Commonwealth Edison bribery scandal, though he has denied any knowledge of it and issued statements saying he did nothing wrong.
“When you have somebody like the speaker who literally is not accountable to the people of the state, the people that he has a lot of control over, I think that’s a problem,” Batinick said.
Members of the House and Senate elect the chamber’s speaker and president, respectively, from among their peers – representatives and senators dually elected by residents of their districts.
To recall statewide constitutional officers, the auditor general, speaker or senate president, Barickman and Batinick propose requiring signatures from 12% of the voters who cast votes for governor in the prior election in order to initiate the recall process; the question would have to clear 60% in order for an official to be ousted via recall.
It’s unlikely it’ll ever get near that point.
Lawmakers are notoriously reticent to approve measures that could imperil their own political futures.
Those who helped draft Illinois’ gubernatorial recall provision say it was designed to be strict and narrow, so that it wouldn’t be too easy to throw government into upheaval, or to provide further enticement for officials to cower to popular public opinion during hard times, like what Illinois is going through now.
While there are those who believe Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done a commendable job navigating Illinois through the coronavirus crisis, others are furious about the heavy hand he has taken and the restrictions he has imposed.
A reporter recently asked a question at one of Pritzker’s daily COVID-19 briefings about whether his job is in jeopardy, given an effort by some Republicans in Ohio to impeach Gov. Mike DeWine, the Republican leader of the state.
When asked if he’s worried about getting impeached for enacting similar COVID-19 orders, Pritzker initially laughed.
“Is that a real question?” Pritzker asked during Friday’s daily briefing. “I don’t know how to answer that. Look, I have a strong approval rating in the state. I think I’ve done a good job. I know that there are people who run around every day trying to file lawsuits — the snake-oil salesmen that we’ve talked about before, trying to gin up opposition to our efforts to fight COVID-19 — and all I can say is that we’re doing the right thing.”
Barickman and Batinick say their plan is designed so recall would be possible, but hard to do, so it wouldn’t be triggered by something trivial.
Madigan’s spokesman said that without having seen the proposed amendment’s language, he could not comment on it.
In the past, Madigan has been disdainful of a somewhat related effort, former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plan to institute term limits on legislators.
Madigan has said term limits already exist: they’re called elections.
The Illinois Senate in 2017 approved a rule that limits the chamber’s president and minority leader to no more than 10 years in those leadership roles.
The House rules do not contain a similar provision.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky