A poll taken earlier this year for the University of Illinois' Institute of Government and Public Affairs and released last week shows overwhelming public support for legislative term limits and recall of elected state officials.
The poll of about 1,000 Illinois residents taken in January found that 70 percent support both term limits and recall. The numbers are close to a Glengariff Group poll taken late last year which showed 65 percent favored recall. Glengariff did not ask about term limits.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich's astounding unpopularity was measured by a different poll released this month. According to the highly respected Ipsos firm, the governor has a 13 percent job approval rating, with 54 percent disapproving and 33 percent reporting mixed feelings.
That unpopularity, combined with the inability of the General Assembly to find timely solutions without an overwhelming amount of intraparty bickering, has undoubtedly fueled the demand for recall and term limits.
According to the Institute of Government and Public Affair's poll, both recall and term limits were soundly backed by citizens in both political parties. Recall, for instance, was supported by 70 percent of self-identified "strong Democrats" and close to 75 percent of independents. About the same amount of Republicans supported the idea.
A constitutional amendment to recall state officials was squashed by the Senate Executive Committee last week after passing the House a week earlier. The ruling Senate Democrats are expected to either keep the recall proposal bottled up or load it down with poison pills designed to defeat it on the floor. Some of those ideas include making local government officials subject to recall, which would put a lot of pressure on legislators to vote against it. But even things like that may not work, since the public is so overwhelmingly in favor of the concept.
Neither chamber has yet to take up any proposals for legislative term limits this year, and it's highly unlikely that they will. The public may be enthralled with the idea, but even many reformers believe term limits would give lobbyists and legislative staff too much influence on the process.
Every twenty years, Illinoisans vote on whether to call a constitutional convention and add, subtract or rewrite our state's founding document. Another vote is scheduled for this November and the Institute's poll found just 18 percent of respondents were opposed (8 percent strongly opposed) to the coming convention proposal, while 39 percent supported it. The rest were undecided.
The last time voters had a chance to decide whether to hold a constitutional convention, in 1988, both political parties, plus just about all business groups and labor unions teamed up to defeat it. Only 19 percent voted in favor of a "con-con," while 58 percent opposed it and about 23 percent skipped over the question.
According to the latest poll, the weakest support for a con-con came from Republican voters and independents. About 30 percent of self-identified Republicans, "strong" Republicans and independents favored the idea, while over 40 percent of all Democrats backed the plan. Republican attitudes may change because some prominent GOP figures are said to be preparing to come out in strong support of the convention vote.
There are a whole lot of undecideds in this issue. According to the poll, 43 percent of all respondents said they didn't know how they'd vote on the con-con. A convention has to be approved by either three-fifths of those voting on the question or a simple majority of all who cast ballots in the election, so both sides have their work cut out for them.
Some arguments against holding the convention tested pretty well with the poll's respondents, with 60 percent or more saying the "anti" arguments that special interests and incumbent politicians would control the con-con are good reasons to vote against calling a convention.
Some arguments in favor of the con-con seemed to work well with the respondents as well. Arguments that scored in the mid to high 50s included, "State government is not working well at present, and only fundamental constitutional change can fix it," and "There are a few major reforms that would improve government in the state but that cannot be passed except by having a convention," and "Conventions are the only way to give ordinary people a say in how Illinois state government is run."
Besides your vote for president, the con-con could be the most important issue you face this November. Take a good, long look, and try not to be swayed by fear. We'll talk more about this as November approaches.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.