Chesney Guest Column: Leadership Term Limits Passed in House- Reform or window-dressing?

Last September, I was one of only three legislators who served as petitioners to begin House Rule 91 proceedings against then Speaker Michael J. Madigan to begin the process that had historically only been rarely used as the first step toward removing a member of the Illinois House.

“There is no greater action we can take in the Illinois House against a duly elected official than a Petition to form a Special Investigating Committee,” I said at the time. What followed was an investigatory committee formed and slow-walked by Democrats. Despite slow-walking their investigation around such damning evidence detailing the corruption of Speaker Madigan in an old school patronage program with the states largest utility, the millions of dollars spent by Democrats to persuade voters at the ballot box of their virtues were not enough to overcome their failings.

Democrats were predicted to make historic gains in the Illinois House, but instead suffered losses to House Republican gains. Further compounding the defeat was the abysmal failure of the progressive income tax and historic defeat of a Democrat Supreme Court Justice’s retention race. Illinois House Democrats finally began to recognize Madigan as an albatross around their neck and took action to try to rebuild their corrupted brand with voters with his “behind closed doors” ouster likely to precede indictment.

Part of the House Democrats efforts to rebuild their brand is to provide window-dressing of reform on some issues. They unbricked Republican efforts to enact term limits on legislative leaders, at long last. House Republicans had previously enacted term limits for their caucus leader voluntarily through caucus rule, but House Democrats blocked efforts for reform for years to protect their patron, Michael Madigan.

After years of avoiding a roll call vote on the issue, on April 22 Democrats joined Republicans to allow for unanimous passage of leadership term limits. Again, though, do not be fooled by window-dressing. When the bill passed, it went to the State Senate. Picking up sponsorship of the bill was a legislator whose father served in public office for decades, capping his career as longest President of the Senate since the 1970 Constitution was drafted. This is before he helped install his son to his seat. It remains to be seen if he is serious about reform or picked up the bill to quietly stall the legislation.

Let’s be clear. I support term limits for leaders. So, I voted Yes. I support term limits for legislators. I doubt I’ll get an opportunity by the Speaker to vote Yes on that, but I will if given the opportunity. But my word of caution is to not confuse movement with progress.

If Democrats are sincere about term limits on legislative leaders, they will pass House Bill 642 in the Senate and send it to the Governor. If they are sincere about REAL REFORM, they will go further and reject legislative pay raises they passed for themselves and enact term limits for legislators, as well as legislative leaders.

Voters are weary of paying for state government services they are not receiving. Leading by example and delivering on real reforms would go a long way toward showing voters that legislators empathize with what they are going through and recognize the sacrifice needed to rebrand the reputation they have contributed so greatly to soiling over the past five decades.