How bad a governor was Rod Blagojevich? So bad that impeaching him wasn’t enough. The General Assembly wants to recall him, too.
ut it needs our permission first. On Nov. 2, we’ll be voting on a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to recall the governor. Secretary of State Jesse White sent out a booklet with all the details last week.
The amendment will allow for a special recall election if 15% of the voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election sign a petition to throw the bum out. That’ll require about 525,000 signatures. If the governor is recalled, we’ll have another special election 60 days later to choose a new governor. The State Board of Elections estimates the two votes would cost $101 million.
It’s true that Illinois governors have a tendency to misbehave: four of the last eight have gone to prison. The only careers with a higher conviction rate are drug lord and hit man. But we already have a much cheaper, much faster mechanism to pluck those bad apples out of the rotting barrel of Springfield before they corrupt the entire system. It’s called impeachment. The same legislators who put the recall amendment on the ballot used it to get rid of Blagojevich.
The amendment also ignores the fact that legislators can be just as venal as governors -- not surprising, since it was written by legislators. In the same period we’ve convicted all those governors, we’ve also seen 15 members of the General Assembly sent up for corruption. If this amendment were actually a grass-roots voter movement, it would provide for a recall of any state official. But it’s not. It’s an effort by one branch of state government to place singular restrictions on another branch. And it was obviously inspired by the legislature’s years-long animosity toward Blagojevich.
House Speaker Michael Madigan, who loathed Blagojevich with the loathing of many men, opposed the recall amendment when it first came up in 2008. Madigan was a delegate to the state constitutional convention of 1970, which voted down a recall provision.
“The problem is not the constitution,” Madigan said then. “The problem is the governor of Illinois.”
The amendment failed to pass the legislature on its first try. After Blagojevich was arrested and impeached, the measure passed almost unanimously, although Madigan still voted no. The amendment now requires the approval of 60 percent of the voters.
Pat Quinn, who started his political career leading a referendum to get rid of politicians -- his Cutback Amendment reduced the size of the state house from 177 to 118 -- is in favor of the amendment.
“I think the ultimate way to get ethics in Illinois is have the power of recall in our constitution,” Quinn told the Quad-City Times.
Quinn, who’s been in office for 20 months, is about to demonstrate that there’s yet another way for Illinoisans to get rid of a bad governor. Check this space for election results on Nov. 3.