Sneaking up on the outside: It's 'Con-Con' 2008

By Ed Murnane | Feb 23, 2008

If you thought the 2008 presidential election, certain to have at least one candidate with strong Illinois, was the most important issue facing our state in 2008 -- you were wrong. Despite the fact that Hillary Clinton was born here, and Barack Obama lives here and represents us, the presidential election is not the important event on our calendar.

And if you thought the recently re-convened Illinois General Assembly with all of its antics and sideshows and false promises and lawsuits was the most important issue, you'd be wrong again. (You might be amused and frustrated but you'd be wrong).

What is the most important event on the 2008 Illinois calendar is one that few people (if a recent poll can be believed) are aware of: the statewide referendum asking Illinois residents if a convention ought to be called in 2009 to re-write the Illinois Constitution.

Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Dick Durbin and Steve Sauerberg (he's the Republican running against Durbin) aren't likely to talk about the con-con referendum, even though it could have a major impact on their state (of former state, in the case of the Illinois => Arkansas => New York resident. John McCain -- almost certain to be the Republican candidate for President -- gets a pass on this one as he's never had a strong (or residential) connection to Illinois.

The reason why the constitutional convention (con-con) referendum is so important is that if approved, the entire Illinois Constitution could be re-written and some of the looney forces in Illinois in 2008 could be the delegates who write a new constitution.

True, a new constitution would have to be approved by voters in a statewide referendum but those same voters elected the current government leaders in our state and it's not certain that they can be trusted. Some of them can, but certainly not all.

The con-con referendum will be on the ballot in November because the current Illinois Constitution requires that voters have the opportunity to call a convention every 20 years. This is the year.

In the shadow of presidential politics and the other news-grabbing events in Illinois, it's not surprising that few Illinois voters are aware that the referendum is on the ballot. A recent (very current) statewide poll shows that fewer than 10 percent of Illinois voters were aware of the upcoming referendum.

While that is not surprising, it's a dangerous thought because it means that 90 percent of the voters could be influenced one way or another on the issue between now and November.

If voters are convinced that things aren't so good in Illinois (THEY'RE NOT!), they could be convinced that the way to fix the problem is with a new Constitution (IT'S NOT!) instead of electing better representatives and leaders.

There is likely to be a lot written about the con-con referendum and early indications are that some very diverse groups of interests are opposed to the con-con call. It's too early to call them a "coalition" because many are REALLY diverse -- but maybe they'll all work together for the good of the state.

One of the leaders in the early "information" stage is the Illinois Business Roundtable, which is a member of the Illinois Civil Justice League and was, in fact, the founder of the ICJL.

IBRT released a comprehensive research paper on Con-Con last week, which can be found on the ICJL website (

While it is the first of many analyses of the past, present and future of the Illinois Constitution, it is worth a look because it includes a thorough history of previous Illinois constitutions and amendments to the constitution and previous referenda.

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