Column 7-29-16

Have you turned on your TV in the past couple of weeks and tried to avoid anything political? Well good luck, because it seems this time of year even ESPN is reporting from the Republican and Democrat conventions.  Tis the season I suppose, and if you’re one of those political junkies, you’re glued to Fox News or CNN.


So of course the national political scene is in the spotlight right now, but let’s not forget about what is happening locally.  Would you believe me if I told you that your vote for a city council or county board member will probably have more impact on your daily life than your vote for President of the United States?  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the top of the ticket is not important (far from it, in fact), but the President of the United States doesn’t have much of an impact on how much you are paying in property taxes.  My point is this: don’t let what’s happening in Cleveland, or in Philadelphia, or Washington D.C. distract us from what is happening in Freeport, or Stockton, or even Springfield.


Speaking of towns across Illinois, the Governor spent this past week touring the state and talking about term limits.  Here’s the thing about term limits – do you remember the old saying about how everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to go right now?  Well, term limits are a lot like that.  Most politicians believe that term limits are a good thing, but no politician seems to be willing to vote for them. Funny how that works, isn’t it?


The problem is that it’s not a complicated issue.  Complicated issues are debated, hashed out, and usually a compromise is reached.  But it seems that with such a cut and dried issue like term limits, we inevitably hit a brick wall.  If I didn’t know any better, I might be inclined to think that someone who has been in Springfield for almost half a century just doesn’t want to leave.  But then again, I’m relatively new to state government, so I’m not an expert.  I’ll have to defer to the honorable Speaker of the Illinois House on that one, but I digress.


Why is it that President George Washington decided eight years was enough?  Furthermore, why did all those Presidents who followed him up until President Roosevelt decide that eight years was an appropriate amount of time to hold office?  It’s not a trick question, really.  The answer is those men were statesmen.  They put the honor of public service above that of their own personal ambition.


The problem is, instead of the statesmen of yesteryear who wanted only to better their country, you can’t seem to find that today.  I see a state with the same old names, the same special interest groups, the same tired old ideas, and the same problems as decades ago.  Can someone remind me again what the definition of insanity is?


I hate to sound like a pessimist, but I assure you there’s a light at the end of the tunnel!  We have a Governor who is fighting the status quo, and the status quo is fighting back as hard as it can. This isn’t to say that I agree with the Governor 100% of the time, but given the choice between a change-maker and a Chicago insider with almost half a century in Springfield, I tend to choose the former.


Term limits are a necessary step to reforming Springfield, and there is not one singular argument against it that passes the smell test.  Golden parachute legislative pensions have to go, and career politicians will just have to find another career.  Yes I sound harsh in saying this, but at what point does a legislator’s salary become more important than achieving the necessary political reforms that Illinois needs to undergo?


When my time in Springfield is over, it won’t be the end of the world for me.  One of my staff asked me just this morning why I’m an elected state representative.  My response was this – how many small business owners are there in Springfield?  There’s surely no shortage of lawyers (no offense intended to my friends who are lawyers), but how many small business owners are there? The reality is that there are not many at all. This being said, it underscores the importance of our elected officials being held accountable to advocate for taxpayers.

All of this goes back to my initial contention: some of the most obvious problems require some of the most difficult solutions.  Some people simply just won’t like it, but what’s right is right. Special interest groups and career politicians are going to have to accept the reality that term limits are coming and taxpayers aren’t going to continually enable extravagant pensions for legislators.


Perhaps President Theodore Roosevelt had the most affecting summation when he said “I do not believe that any man should ever attempt to make politics his only career.  It is a dreadful misfortune for a man to grow to feel that his whole livelihood and whole happiness depends upon his staying in office.  Such a feeling prevents him from being of real service to the people while in office.”

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