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Larry Lough

Can you handle the truth about term limits?

You say you want Illinois to become the 16th state to enact term limits for legislators.

We have to get rid of those long-serving bums in Springfield, you figure, if we’re going to solve the state’s problems – financial and otherwise.

The problem, you suggest, is that too many legislators have been in office too long and just keep getting re-elected despite their lousy performance.

It’s not enough, you believe, for citizens to have the right to vote people out of office on Election Day; you want to change the rules to ensure a different outcome.

Well, good luck with that.

TERM LIMITS ARE popular with voters – at least, those voters who have had that choice on their ballots.

And no wonder. The idea taps into a deep well of cynicism that people have about politicians and government.

According to the National Conference of State Legislators, the average approval rate by voters was 67 percent among the 15 states where term limits are in force.

So it’s no surprise that in a poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, nearly 79 percent of Illinois respondents favored term limits.

Politically, those 15 states are as blue as California and as red as Oklahoma. Four are in the Midwest: Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska and Ohio.

An additional six states approved term limits but later repealed them – by legislative or judicial action.

Those are the facts about term limits.

Everything else is opinion.

IF ILLINOIS VOTERS get the chance to vote next year on term limits, it will be because Bruce Rauner wants them.

Rauner is the political nobody who could be your next governor.

He is a billionaire venture capitalist who is campaigning for the Republican nomination for governor, which will be on the ballot next spring.

Despite the lack of a political past, he has lots of money and lots of friends with money who think his conservative, pragmatic approach to state government is just the thing to solve our problems.

In that sense, he’s kind of like Mitch Daniels, the former presidential budget chief who had never run for public office until he got elected governor of Indiana – twice.

Did term limits keep Daniels from being elected a third time? Not exactly. He wasn’t permitted to run for re-election in 2012 because the Indiana Constitution limits the governor to serve no more than 8 years in a 12-year period.

No three consecutive terms allowed.

ANYWAY, RAUNER has started a statewide petition to put the term limits question on the ballot in 2014.

His grand plan also would eliminate 18 seats in the Illinois Senate, add enough seats (five) in the House to create a 3-1 Representative-to-Senator ratio, and make it more difficult for the Legislature to override a governor’s veto.

In the six states where term limits have been repealed, courts found the laws in four of those states to be unconstitutional. In Oregon, the state Supreme Court ruled that the ballot initiative to impose term limits violated the single-subject requirement for such statewide referendums.

But Rauner’s multi-faceted plan is intended to address the concerns that the Illinois Supreme Court had in 1994 when it stopped an initiative to enact term limits – a drive spearheaded by now-Gov. Pat Quinn, the guy Rauner hopes to unseat.

So, maybe 300,000 valid signatures is all that stands in the way of Rauner’s ballot initiative.

Or maybe the Supreme Court does, too.

LET’S BE HONEST about this term limits thing in Illinois: It’s all about getting rid of Mike Madigan.

You know, the Democrat who has been House Speaker for 28 of the past 30 years.

And a bonus would be to purge Senate President John Cullerton, another Democrat, who has been in the Legislature (first the House, then the Senate) since 1979.

Guess why the General Assembly won’t vote to put the term limits question on the ballot.

The referendum initiative proposed by Rauner would also purge the Legislature of many veteran Republicans, including state Sens. Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard – who are, coincidentally, two of Rauner’s opponents for the GOP nomination for governor.

The fourth Republican who wants to be governor, state Treasurer Dan Rutherford, served 18 years in the Legislature. So Rauner’s referendum to limit a legislator’s tenure to 8 years is also a clever way to remind voters that his three opponents are longtime politicians.

But the biggest loser would be Democrats, who hold super-majorities in both the House and Senate. If veteran legislators (most of whom are Democrats) are no longer allowed to run for re-election, Republicans would stand a much better chance of winning seats.

Do the math.

BY REDUCING THE average age and tenure of legislators, do you ensure better government?

Of course not.

The fact that Illinois has a dysfunctional state government has nothing to do with the length of service of members in the General Assembly.

Rauner would be pleased to have a Legislature like Indiana’s, which has in recent years established an aggressive voucher program to give tax funds to private schools, passed a voter I.D. law, enacted a “right to work” law, started the process for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage, tried to make abortions more difficult to obtain – all those initiatives that have become standard for Republican legislatures everywhere.

And it was done under the leadership of Republicans, specifically House Speaker Brian Bosma, who has been a legislator for 27 years, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, a relative newcomer with “only” 17 years in the General Assembly.

If Indiana were to impose Rauner’s term limits, neither would be eligible to serve.

REALLY, THIS ISN’T about legislators serving too long to be effective.

Term limits are about trying to bring in new lawmakers who will be more sympathetic to a certain political agenda.

Proponents of term limits in Illinois just don’t like the choices that Illinois voters make. So their solution is to limit the options that Illinois voters have.

Illinois voters can enforce a term limit on any elected official in any election they choose. Shouldn’t that be their choice?

If it’s such a great idea, surely Indiana will do it first.

Or is this more about politics than good government?

Can you handle the truth about term limits? shaw-push-component-1