Illi­nois seeks lead­er­ship, but fa­mil­iar faces re­main

Daily Southtown (Sunday) - - OPINION - Austin Berg Austin Berg, a writer for the Illi­nois Pol­icy In­sti­tute, wrote this col­umn for the Illi­noisNewsNet­work.

It’s easy to crit­i­cize longevity in pol­i­tics. “Ca­reer politi­cian” is a pe­jo­ra­tive for a rea­son. But there’s a big dif­fer­ence be­tween per­sis­tent pub­lic ser­vice and a po­lit­i­cal ma­chine.

Un­for­tu­nately, the lat­ter has­won out in the Illi­nois Gen­eral As­sem­bly.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent John Culler­ton andHouse Speaker MikeMadi­gan have con­trolled their cham­bers for nearly 10 and 35 years, re­spec­tively. No other state has a duo who comes close to their to­tal lead­er­ship ten­ure. The two Chicagoans have been mem­bers of the Gen­eral As­sem­bly for a com­bined 88 years.

Per­haps it’s un­der­stand­able that Illi­noisans com­plain about long­stand­ing “Demo­crat rule” in the state leg­is­la­ture. But the real prob­lem might be more about per­son­nel than par­ti­san­ship.

Amere six men have served as Illi­nois speaker of theHouse or Se­nate pres­i­dent since 1983, four Democrats and two Re­pub­li­cans. That means fresh ideas have been in­woe­fully short sup­ply, with po­lit­i­cal pri­or­i­ties fo­cused on pre- serv­ing power rather than bal­anc­ing a given bud­get, for ex­am­ple.

It­would be tough to ar­gue cal­ci­fied lead­er­ship has done the state any fa­vors. Alook at Illi­nois’ so­cial ser­vices, fi­nances, eco­nomic growth and high to­tal tax bur­den is de­press­ing. Still, Se­nate Democrats be­hind closed doors thisweek pledged their vote for Culler­ton for pres­i­dent in 2019 and GOPmem­bers reaf­firmed sup­port for their mi­nor­ity lead­ers. Madi­gan likely will round up­House Democrats the­week af­ter Thanks­giv­ing to ask for the same.

Why has this struc­ture per­sisted?

For one, those lead­er­ship posts have be­come far too pow­er­ful.

In 1993, Re­pub­li­cans cap­tured the Illi­nois Se­nate for the first time in 18 years. Par­tially to build a fire­wall against theMadi­gan-con­trolledHouse, they pi­o­neered a few tech­niques to con­sol­i­date con­trol in the hands of Se­nate Pres­i­dent James “Pate” Philip. One was to overly em­power the Rules Com­mit­tee to the point where it could reli­ably suf­fo­cate pesky bills at the di­rec­tion of lead­er­ship, no mat­ter how­pop­u­lar they­were.

Some of those rules then bled into theHouse, where Madi­gan has been happy to ex­ploit and re­fine them in the more than 20 years since. He has re­mained the Te­flon Don of Spring­field for so many years in part due to his de­struc­tion of democ­racy in what now could only ten­u­ously be called a leg­isla­tive cham­ber.

Through theHouse rules, Madi­gan con­trols a pre­pos­ter­ous num­ber of lu­cra­tive com­mit­tee chair­man­ships, who votes in var­i­ous com­mit­tees, when a bill will be called for a vote, and what bills even make it to a vote in the first place.

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker made a call on the cam­paign trail for term lim­its for leg­isla­tive lead­ers. Un­like re­form­ing the leg­isla­tive rules, that doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily solve the power prob­lem. But it’s some­thing.

Will Pritzker ac­tu­ally push for such amea­sure with­Madi­gan in of­fice? Not if hewants any of his leg­isla­tive agenda to reach the gov­er­nor’s desk. Therein lies the prob­lem.

No­tably, U.S. con­gress­man and long­timeMadi­gan al­lyDan Lip­in­ski said he would not back­Nancy Pelosi for speaker of the House un­til she agrees to changes in the leg­isla­tive rules to em­power rankand-file law­mak­ers.

EveryHouse Demo­crat in Spring­field should be scream­ing for the same.

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