ItÕs difficult to take seriously this weekÕs House vote to establish a recall provision in IllinoisÕ state Constitution. The constitutional provision passed Tuesday with 75 votes — a pretty solid majority and above the three-fifths majority needed.
The tiny minority who opposed the amendment pointed out that the proposal could cause all sorts of problems.
A Democratic legislator with an active core of social conservatives in his or her district could face recall whenever he or she voted for a liberal proposal, for example.
Others pointed out that voters are given a choice every two or four years to toss out legislators and statewide officials, and perhaps they should take that responsibility more seriously.
Still others claimed that this was a wholly transparent device to attack and undercut the hugely unpopular Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
The part about legislators facing nuisance recalls has plenty of merit. The Òvoters already had their chanceÓ argument works for statewide officials, but legislative districts are drawn of, by and for incumbents, so far too often voters have little or no choice in general elections. In areas where voters overwhelmingly belong to one party or the other, it almost doesnÕt matter who the opponent is. Recall would probably be an effective weapon in places like Cook County, the center of so much voter angst, but also the home of millions of dyed-in-the-wool Democrats who refuse to vote for just about any Republican alternatives. The same goes for the overwhelmingly Republican DuPage County.
However, the last point — about this being a ploy to slam the governor — is spot on.
The constitutional amendmentÕs sponsor, Rep. Jack Franks (D-Woodstock), freely admits he would never have introduced the plan had it not been for Gov. Blagojevich. ÒI would not have filed it but for the dismal performance of this governor,Ó Franks was quoted as saying. Franks has been carrying a grudge against Blagojevich ever since the governor outrageously attempted to falsely implicate him in a kickback scheme, so you should consider the source.
The Chicago TribuneÕs editorial board has been banging the drum in favor of a recall law for months, ever since it ran an editorial asking what people thought and was flooded with responses favoring the recall of Gov. Rod Blagojevich. The paper has since used the example of Gov. Blagojevich as its prime example for why recall of elected officials is needed. Last FridayÕs Tribune editorial attempted to goad Senate President Emil Jones and his members into passing the amendment when it reaches their chamber: ÒWill JonesÕ timid followers in the Senate keep letting him further the governorÕs bizarre behavior without challenge?Ó the paper asked.
But this is all just talk. ThereÕs no way on GodÕs Green Earth that Senate President Jones will bring that thing up for a vote. Jones and Blagojevich are tied at the hip. They are the closest of allies, and the Jones/Blagojevich team are bitter enemies of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who allowed the recall provision to come to the floor mainly to tweak the governor.
The efforts by the Tribune and the House are mainly just feel-good distractions that wonÕt become law in the foreseeable future.
WeÕre being subjected to a meaningless and mean-spirited circus led by the largest newspaper in the state. Because this proposal has no chance in the Senate, the House vote on recall wonÕt chasten the governor in the slightest. ItÕll just give some House members something to crow about to angry voters back home and allow the Tribune to pat itself on the back and bloviate some more. At the very least, letÕs not kid ourselves into believing otherwise.
If you want recall added to the Illinois Constitution, your best bet is to vote in favor of calling a constitutional convention this November. But a convention and final approval wonÕt come early enough to oust Gov. Blagojevich. Either weÕll have to wait until the 2010 election for that, or the House will have to vote to impeach him and the Senate would then have to remove him from office. And thatÕs not likely to happen, either.
Face it. WeÕre stuck with the guy.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.