It's no secret that Gov. Rod Blagojevich is probably the most unpopular Illinois governor in living memory.
The entrenched politicians and special interest groups who oppose a state constitutional convention are rightly worried that the public's mistrust, even hatred, of this governor will skew November's vote. Every twenty years, voters are given the right to call a constitutional convention, and the next opportunity is this November 4th. Opponents fret that Illinoisans may decide to make the constitutional convention vote a referendum on Rod Blagojevich. If that happens, they say, then illogic and emotion will prevail and terrible consequences could follow.
The truth is that Rod Blagojevich is a walking, talking poster child for a constitutional convention.
Blagojevich's disastrous, harmful and years-long fight to the death with his political nemesis House Speaker Michael Madigan has featured numerous and often dangerous attempts to exploit the constitution's needlessly vague language.
For instance, the courts have gone back and forth on gubernatorial veto powers, and Blagojevich has seized his opportunities. The governor believes he can use his amendatory veto power to drastically write totally new legislation and send it back to the House and Senate for approval. Others say his amendatory veto authority is limited to only minor corrections to whatever passes both legislative chambers.
Trouble is, the constitution's language is so terribly vague that nobody really knows who is right.
This may seem too "insiderish" to you, but the governor has used those amendatory vetoes to act as if he is a legislature unto himself by creating gigantic and complicated new laws. Most of the constitution's drafters who are still alive will tell you that they never meant this to happen, but they should also admit that they did a very poor job of wording the provision.
Nothing in the Illinois constitution specifically gives the governor any authority to create what are known as administrative rules. In the past, the General Assembly would pass legislation, but it would also allow state agencies to come up with the details needed to implement the new laws. Many years ago, the legislature created an oversight committee to make sure the governor's rulemaking stayed within reason, and Blagojevich even signed a law a few years back to give the legislature more power to stop his rules.
Since then, however, Blagojevich has used administrative rules to create completely new programs out of nothing. When the special legislative committee tried to stop him, he said it had no authority to do so, thereby ignoring the law that he, himself had signed.
Blagojevich essentially believes that he has almost dictatorial powers to create new taxpayer-funded programs without the General Assembly's approval. Speaker Madigan retaliated by demanding that almost all bills had to include language forbidding the governor from creating new rules. The fight has basically halted all major legislation this year. A court recently shot Blagojevich's argument down, but he still won't admit defeat.
The constitution allows the governor to call special sessions of the General Assembly, but Blagojevich insisted that he had the authority to call special sessions at any time he wanted. That case went to court as well. The governor's lawyers then demanded that House Speaker Madigan be sanctioned if he did not call special sessions at the exact times demanded by the governor and also guarantee that enough legislators were present to conduct business. The sanctions and quorum arguments were dropped, but the governor can now call special sessions at 3 o'clock in the morning if he sees fit, even though nothing in the constitution gives him that specific right.
I could go on for days, but I'm running out of room. The point is that Blagojevich has done us all a favor by attempting to exploit these and many, many other constitutional loopholes. We now know where they are and how to close them. And we also know that if we don't do something about this, then Blagojevich or the next governor who decides he's a dictator can't be stopped.
So, if you believe as I do that Gov. Blagojevich has abused his constitutional powers, you should vote "Yes" on a constitutional convention.
Always remember that you'll have the right to vote for convention delegates, and then you'll vote up or down on any and all constitutional changes. It's not nearly as scary as the other side wants you to think.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.