Wednesday, October 22, 2008

What the hell is Con-Con and why you might just want to vote for it.

This is probably more specific to any Illinois readers, but one of the toughest decisions that I had to make when I voted yesterday was whether to vote for Con-Con. Or better known as the Constitutional Convention and making this even more clear, whether to initiate a new Illinois Constitutional Convention. You see built into Illinois's constitution is a provision that requires that every 20 years a vote be put before the state on whether to initiate another Con-Con.

This is that year. So why the big debate on whether to vote for this or not? Well, constitutional conventions are big things. There have only been 5 in Illinois history and only 2 within the last 100 years (with 1970 being the last one). And Con-Cons aren't cheap either (estimates put the current one somewhere between $23 million at the low end and $78-80 million at the high end). Not to mention that many people fear Con-Cons because there might be malarkey during one. And there are a whole bunch of groups who fear change in the constitution as it is currently written. And finally, there is a whole group of people who say why fix what ain't broken.

Now, I've never been a big believer in Thomas Jefferson's belief that we should redraft the constitution every generation (and for those of you who believe that Jefferson advocated a bloody revolution every 10 years, (like this guy), I for the life of me can't find support for that belief), but there are points where we need to consider whether it is time to redraft the constitution.

And I'm starting to think that it is time for Illinois to get out its red pen and try to do some good. These are the reasons I think it is time for another Con-Con:
  1. We desperately need to redo the structure for funding schools in Illinois. This is a hot-button issue and almost certainly will be addressed this time around.
  2. There is a large majority of democrats in this state, which almost assures that interest groups supported by Dems will be fairly represented (i.e., teachers, unions, workers, etc.).
  3. This may be the perfect means by which to get a constitutional amendment on the books that would allow gay marriage in Illinois (or at least greater rights than what are currently allowed).
  4. It is time to increase the amount of state representatives and senators are in Illinois. That number was reduced greatly during the last Con-Con, and now is the time to repair the damage that was done.
  5. We'll need to redistrict in 2010 anyway, so we might as well use a Con-Con to set up some sort of fair way to do it.
  6. It is time to do away with voting on the retention of judges in Illinois and find a new method for judges to be appointed/elected or otherwise. On this point, I'm particularly passionate. Here I am a practicing attorney of 4+ years and yesterday when I voted, I had to vote to retain 50 something judges. I knew 4 of them. Now, if I only know a very small amount of the judges who are up for retention, how is a non-lawyer expected to make a decision on whether to retain a judge or not? Not to mention, what makes a good Democratic politician (or Republican politician, for that matter) doesn't always make a good judge. It is a terrible system to decide who should stay a judge and who shouldn't.
  7. Government Ethics. This state looks broken. Our last chief executive was indicted, the current one might be, and we have too many stories of dirty politicians in this state. Time to get an omnibus ethics bill out there and what better way to do it than putting it in the constitution.
  8. What's the harm? Even if we have a Con-Con, the new Constitution would still need to be ratified by the state in the 2010 election. If the new Constitution is terrible, then all we've cost ourselves is a relatively small amount of money (from a government spending standpoint).

Now, there are also some pretty severe "cons" to this as well. Among the ones I can think of off the top of my head are:

  1. Pensions, pensions, pensions. Right now we have a huge deficit in the pension program in the state and Blago did try to reduce future pension payments a few years ago, but there are plenty of very loyal Dems who could be impacted by any messing with the pension programs, including teachers. Now, it is important to note that by federal law, a state can't reduce current pension payments. But it can reduce future ones. With a big deficit, it is possible that some people and industries may see cuts to government pensions.
  2. Business. Now I won't fall on the sword for big corporations too often, even if they do represent 95% of my client base, but Illinois has fairly favorable laws in place right now. Those could be impacted in a Con-Con. And as much as we'd like to see big business pay higher taxes, if another state doesn't have those same restrictions in place, then Illinois could lose business to others states and that also would mean losing jobs. Illinois workers and families don't need that.
  3. Cost. $23 million to $78 million isn't chump change. It would be really expensive to have a Con-Con, especially considering that people run for delegate seats.
  4. Current Administration. Lots of people will point out that Springfield is as dysfunctional as they come right now. Lots of people will also think that a dysfunctional Springfield is a terrible atmosphere for a Con-Con. I don't disagree that Springfield is dysfunctional, but it is worth pointing out that delegates are elected. In the last Con-Con in 1970, there were but a handful of politicians serving.
  5. A Ploy To Recall Blago. This is one many people seem to fear. In fact, the last question that someone in Illinois will vote for is whether or not to allow recall votes of politicians. I'm a bit fearful of that provision myself. Mob mentalities don't always have the coolest heads, but this is something that might emerge from a Con-Con (good or bad, you decide).

So, these are a few of the things that I think present themselves as both pros and cons for a Con-Con. At the end of the day, I decided to give the Con-Con a try and voted for it. In this political climate and with the prospect of a President Obama, perhaps I'm just too giddy with faith in people and the positive opportunities a Con-Con presents. Or maybe at the very least I just think it is time to fix our school funding situation and see this as the best opportunity to get it done.


kathleen said...

Thanks for a thoughtful overview of the Con-Con. I have not yet done much research into the 1970 Con-Con and am still undecided about the necessity of another one. I agree with your point about judges - that system must be overhauled.

JB said...

Thanks Kathleen. I appreciate the feedback.