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Should We Stop Appointing Legislators?

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Should We Stop Appointing Legislators?

Michael Madigan | Speaker of the Illinois House of Representatives
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If Paula Basta wins her Democratic primary for state representative, something tells me she won’t get along with House Speaker Michael Madigan.

There’s no difference between Basta and her opponent in the Far North Side 14th District, state Rep. Kelly Cassidy. Both are pro-abortion rights LGBT activists. So to distinguish herself, Basta has released an Ethics Plan. In the Madiglossary, “ethics” is just another word for “phony North Side” liberalism.

Here are Basta’s proposals.

GIVE CONTROL BACK TO VOTERS
1. Allow voters to recall any officeholder that is convicted of a crime or found guilty of ethics violations.
2.When a vacancy occurs, allow voters to fill that vacancy rather than letting party bosses make their own appointment.
3. Place a fundraising cap on the amount of money that political parties or political leadership can contribute to a campaign.
4. I oppose the Supreme Court’s recent ruling and support a fundraising cap on how much corporations can contribute to a campaign.
5. Place a sensible limit on the number of years an officeholder can hold any one office.
    
CLEAN UP THE CORRUPTION
1. Require anyone leaving state government to wait one year before they become a lobbyist.
2. Demand that lobbyists registered in Illinois publicly disclose all expenditures and billing records.
3. Abolish the General Assembly’s legislative scholarship program, which has been routinely abused by some elected officials to reward their political supporters.
4. Pass pension reform to prohibit lucrative pension deals by elected officials and state employees.
5. Prohibit any elected official or employee that has been convicted of corruption involving their position with government from ever holding elected office.

Some Cassidy supporters say Basta’s good-government preachiness is a case of sour grapes. After former state Rep. Harry Osterman was elected 48th Ward alderman, both Basta and Cassidy lobbied Committeeman Carol Ronen for appointment to his seat in the General Assembly. The Illinois Observer calls Basta’s proposal for special elections “hypocritical” and “costly to taxpayers.”

Basta was among 20 individuals who sought to cozy up to the “party bosses” to win the appointment to Osterman’s seat in May 2011. Nothing seemed unethical to the long-time lesbian activist at the time.   
What changed? She lost the appointment to Cassidy. There’s the hypocrisy.
Now, there is, in principle, democratic merit to Basta’s idea of allowing voters to choose a replacement lawmaker in a special election if a vacancy occurs. But the real world problem is money. Elections cost taxpayer money. Lots of money.

I'm all in favor of special elections to fill vacancies on the General Assembly and the City Council. They’ll stop the practice of politicians retiring mid-term after striking a deal with the mayor or the local committeemen to hand off their seat to a hand-picked successor, thus cutting voters out of the loop. Ronen is Chicago’s most obnoxious practitioner of this dodge: she was appointed to the state senate after Arthur Berman retired. Osterman -- son of the late Ald. Kathy Osterman -- was appointed to Ronen’s seat. Several years later, when Rep. Larry McKeon resigned, Ronen appointed Greg Harris to his seat. Ronen also announced her retirement from the state senate 14 days before the deadline for filing petitions in the Democratic primary, then appointed the winner, Heather Steans, to her seat. It’s been 16 years since a new state representative or senator was actually elected in Edgewater or Rogers Park.

So, yeah, Basta may just be indulging in sour grapes because she actually has to run for a seat in the legislature, instead of just getting appointed, the way it’s usually done in her neighborhood. But if her bitterness at having to participate in a democratic process means more democracy for the rest of us, then bully for us. If we prefer politicians choosing our leaders in closed door meetings, because it’s less expensive, what kind of a republic are we?  

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