Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Con-Con question remains unclear

The ballots are in, but legal concerns are ongoing. Sixty-eight percent of Illinois voters on Tuesday rejected the call for another constitutional convention. The results don't satisfy a group of supporters who still want clarification about the process of putting that question before voters, as constitutionally mandated every 20 years. At this rate, the 2008 question could drag out until 2010.

Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn says he is considering whether to file a new complaint over the handling of the referendum or to continue seeking the Illinois Supreme Court’s clarification on the issue. Quinn says voters in numerous counties did not receive their blue pieces of paper, as mandated by a judge last month.

From the beginning, Quinn and others who supported the call for a convention expressed concerns that the language was misleading, which was affirmed by two court decisions. He says if opponents can defeat this referendum, then opponents of future referenda could do the same.

“My major concern above all else is that this not become a precedent and a habit of the legislature when they hear about something they don’t like on the referendum ballot, that they put together an ‘explanation’ — in quote marks — to help the voters along, when, in fact, it’s designed to steer the voters against it,” Quinn says. “If that becomes a pattern of behavior in Illinois, then it really will be a blot on our democracy.”

The Chicago Bar Association, meanwhile, does not plan to file another lawsuit over the results of the referendum, says Steve Pflaum. He's the association’s general counsel and a partner with McDermott Will & Emery in Chicago. However, the association does plan to ask the Illinois Supreme Court to review a lower court’s opinion to determine whether the ballot was unconstitutional and whether the remedy of a so-called corrective notice was inadequate.

The association, like Quinn, wants to clarify the process. “Our primary objective at this point would be to try to establish the legal principals that govern these Con-Con referenda so that when we do it again 20 years from now that we won’t have this kind of confusion and these kinds of problems,” he says. He adds a big however. “If the court agrees with us that the separate ballot requirement that is expressly contained in the Illinois Constitution was violated here, then it’s quite possible that the court would conclude that it would be necessary to redo this Con-Con referendum.”

Pflaum estimated that the association wouldn’t file the appeal with the Supreme Court for another month. And if the high court ruled that the referendum had to be redone, he says it most likely wouldn’t happen until the 2010 General Election.

The association also is asking voters who did not receive their blue notices with their ballots to fill out affidavit forms to help plaintiffs gather evidence.

The Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution, which formed a well-funded campaign to defeat the referendum, issued this statement from its executive director, Nancy Kaszak, last night: “This campaign was a unique opportunity for organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum to come together and provide real leadership. Voters saw through the rhetoric and rejected opening up our state's foundational document to wholesale re-write. We look forward to working with leaders of every political persuasion to solve the challenges facing Illinois.”

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Hopes for long-overdue reforms in Illinois property taxation, school funding, and stronger political ethic laws were dashed with the November 4, 2008 defeat of the Illinois Constitutional Convention Referendum.

Prejudicial wording on the ballot measure confused voters, and opponents sewed the seeds of fear that killed the initiative – one that comes before voters once every 20 years.

Dusty politicians, union and political lobbyists suggested that the best way to institute needed reforms was to wait on our legislators or elect new legislators to grapple with these issues. We should trust that these legislators will not be influenced by special interests, burdened by reelection requirements or be subject to the leadership, as the architects of perpetual gridlock.

Three prominent thinkers endorsed a vote yes on calling a citizens convention. Paul Vallas, nationally recognized former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools for raising test scores and balancing budgets. And Cook County Assessor James Houlihan and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.---all know a thing or two about the dire need for more equitable systems for taxation and school funding.

Unfortunately, their support, along with the efforts of under funded grassroots organizations (left, right and center), was not enough to bring the national mandate for change in alignment with local needs for action.

Chicago minority communities strongly supported the referendum, while communities with higher number of union and public employees tended to oppose it. In Chicago, for example, minority communities cast the highest number of yes votes for the constitutional convention ---between 48% to 55% of the electorate.

The highest votes ---50% or greater voted yes for a con con referendum in communities like Englewood, West and East Garfield Park, Lawndale, Chicago Lawn, Chatham, and Greater Grand Crossing. These are neighborhoods with citizens that have seen first hand the inequities of our school funding and tax systems. These communities voted on faith and not fear in spite of a $600,000 radio and TV anti-Con Con ads.

In Mt. Greenwood and Jefferson-Edison Park, with heavy populations of public employees and retirees, voters heard their pensions might be threatened, and they voted against Con Con by 70%.

The wording on the ballot, crafted in back rooms by our legislators, was so prejudicial that the courts declared it unconstitutional and ordered supplemental clarification language to be handed to each voter. The court ordered constitutional referendum clarifications to be made available to voters varied greatly from precinct to precinct, as did the methods of posting the same in or around the voting booths. The only thing that was consistent among voters was the confusion and misunderstanding about what this referendum called for.

When the Illinois legislature can stop school funding reform, and true property tax reform, and then taint the ballot language on an historical public policy issue that comes only every 20 years -- there is something fundamentally broken in our government.

The 1,420,643 yes votes for a Con Con was, at the very least, a demand for a more equitable tax system to better educate our children and to keep our property tax bills payable.

A huge price was paid for the no vote stealthily orchestrated by union bosses and well connected political consultants. That price was a continuation of under funded public school system in areas that have low to modest priced homes and of course, higher property tax bills in the future.

Let's see how our legislators solve the largest district-to-district educational funding gap in the nation in the coming years.

Andrea Raila