- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 16, 2014

April 13, 2014

The (Crystal Lake) Northwest Herald

Reducing money’s influence in politics

There’s no doubt that money influences politics - in big ways.

Big money influences politics in even bigger ways, sometimes leading to corruption.

That’s why there are federal caps on the amount of money someone can donate to a single candidate - now $2,600 for U.S. president or members of Congress.

But limiting the overall amount of money an individual can donate in a given year to multiple candidates, political parties and political action committees is an infringement on Americans’ First Amendment rights, whether we like the role money plays in politics or not.

That’s why we agree with the recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court that strikes down federal limits on the overall campaign contributions an individual donor can make each election cycle.

While we are worried about how those with big pockets can influence policy in Washington D.C., Springfield, or even locally, we think there’s a better way to reduce that influence than curbing individual freedoms - term limits.

In Illinois, Speaker of the House Michael Madigan is the poster child for term limits. A member of the state House since 1971, he has been Speaker for all but two years since 1983. The vast majority of Illinoisans have not been able to cast a single vote either for or against Madigan, yet he holds the real power in Springfield.

Given where this state is financially, most Illinoisans, we suspect, would be in favor of his reign coming to an end.

Bruce Rauner, Republican candidate for Illinois governor, and the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits are gathering signatures in an attempt to get a term limit amendment on the November ballot. We support efforts to give Illinois voters a say, and we’d support a similar effort nationally for members of Congress.

We’ll never fully be able to eliminate money’s influence on our elected officials, but term limits are a better option than curbing First Amendment rights.

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April 12, 2014

The (Sterling) Daily Gazette

Report suggests a reasonable approach

Illinois has long had the most units of government in the nation - 6,963 at last count.

Do we need so many taxing districts to provide governmental services across the Land of Lincoln?

Supporters and opponents of the status quo can both find something to cheer about in a 90-page report released recently by the Local Government Consolidation Commission, which was created in 2011 by the Illinois General Assembly.

Chaired by state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, the commission researched the situation and listened to local government officials.

The report acknowledges those officials’ concerns that the state not mandate consolidation and elimination of units of government, such as townships, municipalities, fire protection districts, library districts, drainage districts, mosquito abatement districts, and the like. In other words, let the decisions be made locally.

The report also points out that “simply reducing the number of local governmental units does not necessarily result in a reduction of costs to the taxpayer,” which is a position long held by those who support the status quo.

Both conclusions appear reasonable.

Equally reasonable are other conclusions that bolster the side of people who think Illinois needs to cut back on its governmental units.

The report found that the duties of some units of government overlap, and that it is very difficult or impossible to eliminate a unit of government, even when its purpose may no longer exist.

The report calls on the Legislature to review its laws so that every taxing body in the state has a legal mechanism, which does not contain unreasonable barriers, to dissolve or consolidate.

In conjunction with the report’s findings, Franks introduced a bill that would eliminate barriers to consolidation so that local governments that wish to merge have the legal authority to do so.

Government officials would be wise to review the Local Government Consolidation Commission’s report and voluntarily investigate mergers before budgetary concerns make them a necessity.

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April 12, 2014

The (Alton) Telegraph

Redrawing the map

Good news for the great majority of Illinois voters who are fed up with politicians rigging the electoral maps: A grass-roots effort to amend the state constitution has collected almost 350,000 signatures - and banked more than $2.5 million in campaign contributions from a diverse lineup of supporters.

That’s more than enough signatures to get the measure on the Nov. 4 ballot, and a healthy budget to promote the cause.

Now comes the hard part. The pols aren’t going to give up their most potent power-grabbing tool without a fight.

Watch for those petitions to be challenged within minutes after they’re filed. That’s why Yes For Independent Maps hopes to have up to 500,000 signatures by the May 4 deadline. The group needs a cushion in case some signatures are invalidated or some pages are disqualified for staple-versus-paper-clip nitpicking.Next comes the inevitable lawsuit, challenging the constitutionality or the language of the amendment, or both. It would fall to the Illinois Supreme Court, whose members were elected with party support, to decide whether the measure stays on the ballot.

Then there’s the big disinformation campaign, on which millions will be spent to convince voters that the amendment is bad for them. Already, the state’s top Democrats are voicing disingenuous concerns that the measure could reduce minority representation.

Yes, we’re singling out the Democrats here. They’re the ones who will fight this measure, because they’re the ones who currently control the mapmaking process. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton exploited that advantage to build supermajorities in both houses, but don’t kid yourself: Republicans would do the same thing if they held the pen. Their 1991 legislative maps are a fine argument in favor of independent redistricting.

Partisan redistricting is bad for Illinois, no matter who draws the maps. Voters have no choice, and therefore no voice, when their districts aren’t competitive. In the last general election, well over half of the legislative races were unopposed. Since 2001, more than 97 percent of incumbents seeking re-election have won.

Lawmakers who don’t have to worry about what happens on Election Day are not accountable to the voters they’re supposed to represent. They’re accountable to the party bosses who control those elections by sorting voters into diabolically gerrymandered districts.

This would put the job in the hands of an 11-member commission. Any Illinois citizen could apply.

A nonpartisan panel appointed by the state auditor general would weed out lobbyists, public officials and others with conflicts of interest and pick 100 of the most qualified applicants. The pool would be required to reflect the state’s geographic and demographic diversity.

The four legislative leaders could each strike up to five of those names. Seven members - two Republicans, two Democrats and three independents - would be chosen by lottery, and legislative leaders would each pick another.

So the mapmaking team would include four Democrats, four Republicans and three independents. Maps would have to be approved by seven votes, of which at least two must be Democrat, two Republican and two independent.

The entire process would be open to the public, from beginning to end.

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April 10, 2014

Joliet Herald-News

Pass sign and drive

Proposed legislation to eliminate the practice of surrendering a physical driver’s license for a minor traffic offense makes such obvious common sense, it’s hard to believe it’s taken this long to rectify.

Senate Bill 2583 unanimously passed the Illinois Senate on Wednesday and has moved on to the House.

This is 2014. There has never been a time when government has more access to personal information - for good and bad. The only thing collecting plastic cards does is inconvenience the driver and create unnecessary work for government employees such as police officers and circuit clerks who have to transport and store them.

All of the vital data is stored electronically with the Illinois Secretary of State and available at the government’s fingertips. A simple license plate scan pops a wealth of information onto a patrol officer’s laptop screen.

Someone who plans to skip out on a speeding ticket won’t be hindered by the fact that his plastic card is sitting in a manila envelope in a circuit clerk’s office cabinet.

And short of U.S. passports, which not every citizen has, driver’s licenses are the most reliable forms of identification. They are necessary for airline travel and things as basic as buying cold medicine.

What sense does it make to have people walking around - or driving - without a reliable photo ID?

We hope the legislation that would require driver’s to sign a promise to come to court or risk suspension of their driving privileges has similar success in the Illinois House and with Gov. Pat Quinn.

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