When state Rep. Harry Osterman was elected alderman of the 4th Ward last year, Paula Basta applied for the appointment to replace him. Instead, the ward committeemen chose Kelly Cassidy. Now, Basta is running for the seat herself, on a platform of allowing voters to fill vacancies with special elections. The Democratic Party says she’s a hypocrite, and complains that special elections will cost too much money. Basta says Springfield is lagging behind the city and the federal government in ethics reform.
Ward Room: As we're about to have a second governor go to jail, this seems likely a timely moment to talk about ethics.
Basta: One of the realities is we have to watch this again play out in our political world of Illinois. Running for state rep, what I had thought about and really could articulate better than most is to talk about ethics. So we decided that an ethics plan would be the way to go, and two points of the ethics plan -- five points on one side, giving control back to the voters, and five points on the other side, which is to clean up the corruption. We want to put legislation forward to do things like recall.
Ward Room: Recall for all officials? Not just the governor?
Basta: Yeah, all officials that are convicted of a crime.
Ward Room: Would you favor allowing the voters to recall any official for anything?
Basta: Yeah, if they're a public official, and they're elected, absolutely. It's the people who put them there, and if they're abusing that power, the people should be able to remove them.
Ward Room: Here’s a point in your plan: “When a vacancy occurs, there should be a special election.” The Democratic Party is calling you a hypocrite, because of this, because you also applied for the same vacancy. Is it just sour grapes?
Basta: No, not at all. The decision was made, so let's go ahead with the decision. OK, that's fine, but let's have an open process of an election, instead of just one or two insider party bosses deciding. So my point is, let's broaden the conversation, and lets not just have committeemen deciding.
Ward Room: These special elections are going to be expensive.
Basta: We're already spending over $500 million just in some of the corruption cases we've put forth, so I think we have to look at our priorities of what we do in people having the power to decide who goes down to represent them. Look at where you're spending your monies, and then decide, 'Why not a special election?' $100,000 compared to $500 million spent when you put someone in office who abuses the power or because they owe somebody something?
Ward Room: Do you have any evidence that appointed representatives are more corrupt than elected representatives?
Basta: No, I have no evidence of that. It's a process that just doesn't give people a voice. [Editor’s note: Shortly after this interview ended, news broke that appointed Rep. Derrick Smith had been arrested for accepting a $7,000 bribe.]
Ward Room: You talk about placing a cap on the amount of money that political parties or political leadership can contribute to a campaign. I would think that Michael Madigan might think that was directed him.
Basta: Yeah, or anybody who has control over a Democratic or Republican PAC. Basically, they can spend much more money, there a ceiling, but it's a high threshold, and others can't. Again, it would great if the playing field could be level.
Ward Room: Do you have an idea for what the limit would be?
Ward Room: Chicago's City Council used to fill vacancies by special elections. That's something that the legislator would actually dictate, too. Would you be in favor of changing that back to the way it was?
Basta: Sure. Across the board, anywhere that you can find that a voter will have more of a say.
Ward Room: “Place a sensible limit on the number of years in office.” What is a sensible limit?
Basta: Institutional knowledge is not a bad thing to have. Some people have said because of that they don't want term limits, because when you have constant turnover, suddenly you have to start fresh all over again. I would say a sensible time limit would be between 12 and 16 years.
Ward Room: “Require anyone leaving state government to wait one year before they become a lobbyist.”
Basta: In the city, we have an ethics code that does ask that any city employee has to wait after they leave city employment, and I would suggest we do the same for the state.
Ward Room: “Demand that lobbyists registered in Illinois publicly disclose all expenditures and billing records.” That's not on the books?
Basta: No, they don't have to do it. Federally and on a city level they're required to, but not on a state level.
Ward Room: “Pass pension reform.”
Basta: This is geared toward those people that get those two, three pensions. They stay in a job for a day or a week or a month, and they tack on thousands of dollars to their pensions. Close those loopholes. You basically have to say, "one pension."
Ward Room: Does the state have weaker ethics laws than the city or the federal government?
Ward Room: Why do you think that is?
Basta: I think they just haven't taken it on. I don't know if they don't take it on because they haven't wanted to look at it. I guess you'd have to ask the leadership.
Ward Room: If you're elected, will you vote for Michael Madigan as speaker of the House?
Basta: Depends on what the choices are? Is it just him? I don't know.
Ward Room: You'd be open to another candidate?
Basta: Sure. Absolutely.