Declaring the moment ripe to address "failure in Springfield," Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner unveiled a proposal Tuesday to impose eight-year term limits on Illinois lawmakers while also shrinking the size of the state Senate and giving the governor more power to override legislators' vetoes.
Rauner, a Winnetka venture capitalist and newcomer to state politics, rolled out details of a proposed petition drive for the legislative overhaul on the first day campaign hopefuls began circulating petitions for the 2014 race. It was quickly criticized as a gimmick by a rival in the four-way GOP primary race, state Sen. Kirk Dillard, who spent the day promoting his choice of running mate in the lieutenant governor's race.
Rauner's petition drive is being run separate from his bid for governor, though he's seeking to put the question to voters on the same November 2014 ballot where his name would appear if he's successful in the GOP primary.
The proposal would ask voters to impose the term limits by changing the state constitution.
"This is about uniting all voters to transform Springfield, stop that culture of corruption," said Rauner, the only candidate in the GOP primary race who has not held elective office. "If eight years was good enough for George Washington, it should be good enough for the politicians in Springfield."
The idea of term limits has long been popular in Illinois, as it is across the nation. But it has never taken root because of a 1994 state Supreme Court ruling that struck down an initiative by then-treasurer and now Gov. Pat Quinn because it didn't make underlying "structural and procedural" changes to the Legislature, as constitutionally required.
Rauner contended Tuesday that backers of the new initiative had learned from that experience, and hence joined the term-limit proposal with the other proposed reforms. While cutting the size of the Senate from 59 members to 41, it would expand the House to 123 from 118 members, which Rauner argued would make races more competitive.
Rauner also proposes changing the number of votes needed to override a governor's veto to two-thirds from three-fifths. He said that would give the governor a stronger role and bring Illinois in line with Congress' checks on the presidency.
Chris Mooney, an expert on term limits at the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said Rauner's three-pronged approach could stand a better chance in the courts than previous efforts. "It shows a great deal of political savvy that we don't always see from these rich, neophyte candidates," Mooney said.
But Dillard contended the proposal would not solve Illinois' problems, and a political reform advocate said the initiative could pose a number of campaign fundraising concerns.
"I think it's ironic that Mr. Rauner uses Pat Quinn populism throughout his campaign to try to create gimmicks to attract attention to himself," said Dillard, a state senator since 1994.
Dillard said he supports term limits for legislative leaders, but not mandatory limits for the rank and file. He said reducing the size of the Senate would "greatly, greatly disenfranchise the people of downstate Illinois. The downstate districts will become so large that one won't have the ability to even see their senator."
Dillard spoke in Springfield as part of a state fly-around to promote state Rep. Jil Tracy of Quincy as his choice for a ballot partner in the lieutenant governor's race. Dillard first named Tracy late Monday via Instagram, the same day another GOP candidate, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, named attorney Steve Kim from Northbrook as his running mate via Twitter.
Neither Quinn nor his Democratic primary challenger, former White House chief of staff Bill Daley, responded immediately to The Associated Press' requests for comment on Rauner's term-limits initiative. Steve Brown, spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, a Chicago Democrat who has controlled the House for all but two of the last 30 years, said he'd "have to see what the specifics on his proposal are."
Brown argued that with term limits, power would shift from the hands of lawmakers to unelected staff members and lobbyists.
Rauner stands to benefit from the term-limit initiative in several ways. Unlike normal political action committees, those pushing a ballot question have no limits on what donors may contribute. That means Rauner supporters could channel their money to the second campaign associated with him, giving him even more publicity.
David Morrison, deputy director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, said his organization fears the move could tie "the system in knots a bit," by blurring the lines over how much money Rauner can raise.
Morrison said his group is concerned that Rauner could use the committee "to supplement or reinforce his gubernatorial candidacy. We're kind of in uncharted water."
Rauner described the effort as distinct from his bid for governor, with its own staff and its own fundraising initiative.