Illinois Term Limits Amendment Has the Signatures; Still Face Major Hurdles

An Illinois term limits initiative looks to have enough valid signatures to appear on the November ballot even as some obstacles remain.

The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits has collected over 500,000 signatures. 300,000 valid signatures are necessary for an amendment to appear on the general election ballot and a preliminary review by state election officials estimates that there should be at least 330,000 valid names.

If the number of signatures are determined to be valid, Illinois voters should have the opportunity to amend the state’s Constitution. The proposed changes would limit legislators’ tenures to no more “than eight years in the General Assembly.”

According to the current Illinois Constitution, any amendment must affect the structure of the General Assembly. So, the plan also looks to slightly increase the number of Illinois House members from 118 to 123, while reducing members of the State Senate from 59 to 41.

It also seeks to increase the number of legislators needed to override a governor’s veto from three-fifths to two-thirds.

Term limits were an early part of committee chairman Bruce Rauner’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign. He eventually won the four-person primary on March 18 against three state officeholders. Chris Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois-Springfield, said Rauner’s support for term limits was invaluable:

“This was probably a key reason Rauner won the Republican nomination. It allows him to differentiate himself from his competitors very easily, and associate himself with a very popular movement. That will be the case in the general election against Gov. [Pat] Quinn as well.”

However, there may be at least a couple of difficulties for the amendment and Illinois voters when debating whether to pass Rauner’s amendment.

Opponents of term limits are quick to point out that limits preclude members from serving long enough to become anything more than congressional backbenchers. As the argument goes, term limits end up empowering lobbyists and the executive branch.

Yet, the measure would first and most obviously affect Speaker of the House Michael Madigan. Madigan has served in the Legislature since 1971 and as speaker for all but two years since 1983.

However, as of 2014, the average Illinois House member, even factoring in the long tenures of members like Madigan, has been in office only slightly more than 8 years. In the Senate, it is between seven and eight years. So, it is unclear whether term limits would affect any more than a handful of legislators.

Another potential obstacle would be charges against Rauner over a conflict of interest. The incentive for a possible Republican governor to increase veto overrides from 60 percent to 67 percent is evident. Democrats currently have a filibuster-proof majority in the legislature. Any prospective Republican governor would face numerous challenges and potential gridlock.

However, with a nominee for governor as the public face of an official effort to change the state constitution, Rauner may be creating additional hurdles for himself.

One final impediment appears to be coming on behalf of the speaker’s office. Michael Kasper, a lawyer with ties to Madigan, has already filed a lawsuit on the grounds that the proposed amendment affects so many issues: veto overrides, legislature composition, and years in office.

However, the campaign for Illinois term limits in 2014 has certainly gained momentum.

Photo Source: Chicago Tribune