Notwithstanding ballot mess, 'yes' to Con-Con!

Bruno Behrend Oct. 5, 2008, 10:25am


Last week, Ed Murnane wrote a piece about the ballot language on the Constitutional Convention question that Illinois voters will vote on this November. In that article, Mr. Murnane mentioned my name in relation to the convention issue along with reporting on the ballot.

Given that I take issue with some of what Mr. Murnane wrote, I would like to thank the Madison County Record for allowing me to respond to Mr. Murnane's commentary.

This also gives me the chance to inform readers as to the proceedings in the suit against the state authorities regarding the Constitutional Convention ballot language case that was decided in part on Wednesday afternoon.

The Case

Mr. Murnane's description of the legal issues on the ballot was accurate, but he missed the fact that I initiated the first action, focusing only on the "NOTICE" language that was just ruled factually incorrect by the court.

We agreed with the CBA and Lt. Governor Pat Quinn as to the prejudicial nature of the "explanatory" language, but saw the verbiage that "failure to vote is the equivalent of a negative vote" as a fatal flaw that would call the entire election into question after the fact.

Fortunately, the judge ruled that all such language "violates the individual voters' rights to freely and fairly cast the election."

This excellent ruling on the merits can be contrasted with the recent meanderings St. Clair County Clerk Bob Delaney, who imperiously stated that it would be a "disaster" to reprint ballots over "something no one cared about." Just who is he to say?

Whether Illinois will get the new (or separate) ballots they deserve on this question will depend on the creativity and flexibility of election officials, and Mr. Delaney's comments above should give voters an idea of just how inflexible and moribund some of those officials are.

This case will turn on whether the courts are interested in enforcing the remedies Illinois voters deserve on this very important question, and/or whether any plaintiffs are willing to go beyond the current judicial level to see that their rights are enforced.

Regarding Mr. Murnane's comments

While I appreciate Mr. Murnane's compliment that I'm an "effective" proponent for holding a Constitutional Convention, I think he stooped below his usual level of class when he called me a liar in his Sept. 28th article.

He may feel wronged by my assertion that the "Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution" is really the "Axis to Protect the Status Quo," but it is our view, which is shared by many Illinois citizens. It is not an "outright lie" at all.

While I know (and respect) Mr. Murnane well enough to understand that he does not like the status quo (a politically broken and near bankrupt Illinois), the fact remains that his taking part in the "Alliance" still makes him a defender of the status quo.

His strong reaction to my assertion may therefore be due to some cognitive dissonance on his part. The business leaders/groups who are "allied" with the trial lawyers, public employee unions, and the rest of the crew that have made such a mess of this state should feel a little embarrassed about participating in a campaign to keep things the way they are.

If they were more forward-looking and politically entrepreneurial about fixing Illinois, they would have seen the entire convention process as the best way to campaign on good policies while finding that new generation of leadership they say they are seeking.

Instead, they (ICJL, Illinois Chamber, IBRT, NFIB, etc.) punted. They decided the risks where "too high". I wonder if they ever realized the all-too-high risks of the preserving the status quo.

Given that this is political campaign of sorts, and that things get heated, I suppose I can take Ed Murnane accusing me of being a "liar," but I'd still appreciate his retraction of the charge. Your readers should know that I'm not lying at all. Ed Murnane may not like the "status quo," but by joining that "alliance," he is, in fact, protecting it.

The Convention Vote

Reasonable people can disagree on whether to call a convention. Our position, argued in our well-received book – "Illinois Deserves Better: The Ironclad case for an Illinois Constitutional Convention" – is that we won't see improvements in Illinois by futilely pining for "better leadership."

If you ask yourselves where this "better leadership" might come from, you have to take into account a broken electoral process and the closed system of Illinois politics. We have a state where party bosses have the control to keep new people and new ideas out of the electoral process. The Dominant party quibbles over tax spoils and contracts while the Submissive party suffers from leaders who refuse to lead while actively preventing any new leadership from developing.

In the midst of the fiscal and leadership crises facing Illinois, we are blessed with a citizen-driven process that has the potential for reactivating civic involvement, identifying newer and better people from across the political spectrum, and getting them elected to 118 essentially open, non-incumbent positions as delegates.

If the process produces changes that are actually worse than the current constitution (a difficult feat, in our opinion), the citizens again have the last word in ratifying it or turning it down.

We therefore respectfully disagree with Mr. Murnane on the convention issue. If the "business community" wants better leadership, they just missed the best opportunity to be part of the process of nurturing it.

The Illinois Constitution can be improved upon, and the convention process, while not "risk-free" offers an excellent opportunity to engage the citizenry in improving it. We urge people to vote 'yes' and actively participate in taking the state back from a broken and overly insulated "political class."

It is better to take some risks in an attempt to improve Illinois than to guarantee Illinois' status quo, which is an inevitable slide into greater fiscal crisis and unethical government.

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