Guest Commentary by State Representative Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton)
In calling a Special Session to determine whether Illinois would hold a Special Election for Comptroller, House Speaker Mike Madigan, once again, played batter, pitcher and umpire on the sandlot that is the Illinois House.
Veto Session in December ended “Sine Die,” which is an adjournment until the next legislative session. Should a Special Session be called following such an adjournment, it can only be to rule on legislation already filed. No bill had been filed during Regular Session or Veto Session to put in place a Special Election.
However, with the inauguration of a Republican governor just around the corner, Mike Madigan wanted to send a message: “I’m in charge here. We play by my rules, and no one is going to change that, Bruce Rauner.” So, in keeping with his “my-way-or-the-highway” leadership style, Madigan ignored numerous statutes in the state Constitution, suspended procedural rules, and called a Special Session. Then, he gutted an old House bill and added an amendment that created the legislation he wanted.
These actions go well beyond political games. What the Speaker did in getting this bill passed was illegal. Yet, 66 members of the House went right along with it.
The worst part is that in less than two years, this will be nothing more than another talking point on campaign mail pieces.
But why? Nearly every poll indicates that a majority of Illinoisans recognize that their quality of life has decreased over the past 12 years. Polling reveals that most people have made the connection between their quality of life and mandates, taxes and the inefficient systems and services that clunk out of our overly bureaucratic government. So, if Illinoisans understand the “civics,” why hasn’t the composition of the Illinois House changed? Why hasn’t the ruling class been overthrown?
It’s because Madigan’s game isn’t about just civics. It’s about power. Power is the game of getting people to do what you want. To many “power” seems to inherently imply something Machiavellian or duplicitous. “Power” and its consequences are subjects we want to watch play out on TV, but aren’t sure we want to invite into our lives. While most will willingly learn about a policy or ballot referendum, they don’t really care to know the truth about power: what it is; who has it; how it operates; how it flows; what part of it is visible; what part of it is invisible; why some people have it; and how it’s compounded. As a result, those who do understand power in civic life wield disproportionate influence.
If we are truly going to “Shake-up Springfield,” Illinoisans need to commit to a renaissance of sorts on the subject of “Power.” Citizens from all walks of life need to learn not just how a bill becomes a law, but how a friendship becomes a subsidy; how a bias becomes a policy; how a slogan becomes a movement, because those who do understand these processes are more than happy to fill the vacuum created by the ignorance of those who do not. In this state, people who are authorities on “Power” have been calling all the plays while the rest of us quibble over the rules – too discouraged by their complexities to get off the bench.
Learn not only how to recognize an abuse of power, but also how to apply power in order to affect change in Illinois and in your own community. This is the best path to checks and balances in state government from where we currently stand.
The inauguration of a new governor makes this the opportune moment to grab hold of the idea of “Power” and democratize it. This is an exciting, but challenging moment. Power in this state has been heavily concentrated. The difficulty is that most people have become too discouraged or disgusted to take an unguarded look at the elements of “Power” – money, people, ideas, information, misinformation, the threat of force, the force of norms; how they are used – to negotiate, to advocate; to frame issues; to navigate diversity and conflict; what systems are involved – the marketplace, social institutions, faith organizations and the media; and recognize that these components can be combined either for noble purposes or nefarious ends.
This is a challenge we must confront, because choosing to look away – to disengage – means you are left out of decisions that will affect every aspect of your life. It means you acquiesce to the status quo. It means you sit on the sidelines while ruling class politicians have their fun on the field.
It’s time to get off the bench. It is within our power to turn this game around.