Gov. Pat Quinn seems to think that if he put Chicago's ethics in the hands of the
we'd be rid of government graft and corruption. He
surprised everyone last week with this concept by using his amendatory
veto to allow the electorate of all Illinois local governments,
including Chicago, to enact ethics laws through referendums.
seems to have forgotten that Chicago voters repeatedly put the boodlers
in office in the first place. But, it's still a juicy idea to play
with. Imagine, Chicagoans rising up in anger to end the fake
affirmative action contracts, the endless deals slipped to insiders,
the clouting of family, friends and cronies into the city's cushiest
jobs and best schools, the zoning changes and sidewalk permits that
fetch wads of dough from grateful developers. Etc.
his amendatory veto into Senate Bill 1662, a minor piece of legislation
that originally required political interest groups to register more
quickly with the state. Quinn opened the door for voters to pass
binding ethics laws that their local governments could, but have chosen
not to, pass. Once voters enact ethics reform, the local government
(e.g. Chicago's City Council) could not repeal it for four years. Think
of it: an end to the wheeling and dealing.
is what reformers, commentators and the rest of the city's naive are
supposed to think. Quinn's little deal faces some huge hurdles, things
that Quinn had to understand from the get-go. First, the legislature
can override Quinn's amendment. If three-fifths of each house votes to
approve the original bill, it becomes law without the governor's
amendment. Or, if the governor's amendment fails to win a simple
majority vote of both houses, then the entire bill is dead. Since the
original bill doesn't seem to be all that important anyway, it is
unlikely that Quinn's amendment (and the entire bill) will stand.
Some further hurdles: Why would Democratic legislators loyal to Mayor Richard M. Daley
want to support voter ethics initiatives that can strike at the heart
of his machine? Suburban and Downstate Republican lawmakers might not
like it either, because their local governments probably wouldn't
relish another mandate being handed down from Springfield. Especially
one that diminishes their power by turning some of it over to voters.
Suburban and other local governments will argue that they already have
ethics laws on the books, so why the need for referendums? Add to this
the fact that one of the most powerful lobbies in Springfield
represents local governments in all its forms, including municipalities
to school districts.
And if the amendment does manage to jump
all these hurdles and becomes law, there are the courts. Challengers
could argue that the amendment's language is unconstitutionally vague.
For example, the amendment allows voters to approve a "binding
ordinance relating to ethical standards." What does that mean? Is it so
overly broad that it could include anything the petition backers say it
means? Also, the amendment would apply to "any unit of local
government." Does that include schools (it usually doesn't)? How about
mosquito abatement districts?
Maybe only normal journalistic
cynicism moves me to ask such questions. What is Quinn up to by pushing
an amendment that has such little chance of passing? Is it simply
designed to make him look good in the next election? Is it a symbolic
stick in the eye of Daley, and why would Quinn want to go poking around
Or is the amendment just an amendment,
pushed by the governor for completely honest and reasonable purposes?
Quinn, after all, helped author citizen initiatives before, and it
wouldn't be out of line for a self-styled populist to offer up some
more, as quixotic as they might be.
Suppose that the
legislature -- miraculously -- was of the same mind-set, and passed the
amendment? Perhaps it would fire up some grass-roots anger in a few
burgs, like Bolingbrook,
where Mayor Roger Claar has allegedly lived high on the hog from
political contributions from people and firms that do business with the
But Chicago is an entirely different hog. Chicago
voters have shown themselves to be too lazy, inept, apathetic, pliable
or unconcerned to organize the kind of grass-roots campaign it would
take to impose ethics on the rogues they continually elect.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune