October 11, 2008
CAROL MARIN email@example.com
Congratulations, Governor. You too, Speaker Madigan.
Ditto, Senate President Jones.
A tip of the hat to all three of you.
You've managed to drive the left into the arms of the right, gotten the right to side with the left.
All it took was Con-Con.
When voters in Illinois go to the polls on Nov. 4, even before they cast a momentous presidential vote for Barack Obama or John McCain, at the very top of their ballots they will be asked to vote "yes" or "no" on Con-Con. That is, they will be asked to decide whether this state should hold a convention to re-write the Illinois Constitution.
The reason that we should salute Rod Blagojevich, Mike Madigan and Emil Jones, our fearless Democratic leaders, is that their toxic, ego-driven, Bermuda triangle of a relationship has so poisoned Springfield, so paralyzed the General Assembly, that the citizens of this state who've been forced to watch their antics like endless episodes of "Days of Our Lives" are desperate to fight back.
We have a former governor in federal prison, a current governor under federal investigation, and thanks to Jones' Senate deep-sixing what Madigan's House passed, no mechanism for a recall of officeholders.
So, suddenly, a Con-Con has sex appeal.
It could revise the Constitution to allow not only for recall, but term limits, stronger ethics language, and a curb on the governor's vast veto power. A way, in other words, for citizens to slap back at the leadership in Springfield. It's very tempting.
And yet, there is danger. It's the General Assembly and the governor, the same geniuses who brought us to this precipice, who will set the rules and budget for the constitutional convention. And there's no guarantee that all manner of special interests won't try to turn the convention into a referendum on social issues: abortion, gay marriage, stem cells.
Smart and thoughtful people on both sides of this issue have made strong cases for why a Con-Con is or isn't useful at this moment in time. It's created some pretty strange alliances.
On one hand you've got the unabashedly liberal United Power for Action and Justice siding with conservatives like Bruno Behrend, the author and radio talk show host who has traveled the state urging voters to say "yes."
On the "no" side are two past political combatants: Jim Edgar, the former governor, and Dawn Clark Netsch, who would have been governor if Edgar had not defeated her in 1994. They didn't agree on much then or now but are united on this.
Do-gooders are divided. The Better Government Association is for a Con-Con but the League of Women Voters in Illinois is opposed. Which, interestingly, puts the League on the same side as the State Rifle Association.
Newspaper editorial boards are split. The Sun-Times says no to Con-Con, the Tribune says yes.
But of all the voices that ring in my ears, it's Netsch's I hear most clearly.
Dawn Clark Netsch was one of the conveners of our last constitutional convention 40 years ago. It was a remarkable, bipartisan, consensus-driven crowd. Oh yes, they fought. But they worked out their differences. And wrote a pretty good document.
Like Netsch, I believe that a Con-Con this time around will become a battleground for social issues, shoving aside less flashy but urgent discussions of fiscal policy and education.
Like Netsch, I believe the biggest problem we have right now isn't the Constitution but the people we've put in power.
And so like Netsch, I'm going to say no to Con-Con.
Or, to put it in "When Harry Met Sally" terms, I'll have what she's having.