Friday, February 05, 2010

A look back at recount and the lt. gov's office

UPDATE: Scott Lee Cohen stepped down as the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor Sunday evening. The Illinois Democratic party will chose his replacement. Check back in the coming days for more updates.


By Jamey Dunn

Illinois laws relating to recounts may soon be implemented in a state race for the first time since they were passed.

While state Sen. Kirk Dillard from Hinsdale has not called for a recount yet, he is not giving up, either. He said he wants to wait until all the votes are counted before he decides. Dillard is vying with Sen Bill Brady from Bloomington for the Republican gubernatorial nomination.

"All of the votes aren't in, and there could be between 5,000 and 10,000 votes still out there," Dillard said at a Chicago news conference today.

The last time a candidate requested a recount was in the 1982 governor's race. Republican candidate Jim Thompson led Adlai Stevenson III by a little more than 5,000 votes. Ron Michaelson, executive director of the Illinois State Board of Elections from 1976 to 2003, said that gap worked out to less than half of a vote per precinct at the time. “It was an incredibly close election. Probably the closest general election in the history of Illinois,” he said.

Instead of making a decision on Stevenson’s request, the Illinois Supreme Court found the recount law unconstitutional, leaving Stevenson with no recourse. Thompson became governor. The legislature changed the law, and it became what we have today.

“The law was fixed, but for state races, it has really never been used since then,” Michaelson said. He added that Dillard does not have to make up his mind about recount right away. “We’ve got a little time for everybody to figure out if they want to pursue it."

Michaelson pointed out that depending on the final numbers, other candidates also could ask for recounts. “Literally, even today, votes are still being counted,” he said. Concessions do not legally bind anyone to dropping out of a race. However, he said he doesn’t think it likely that anyone who has already conceded will ask for a recount.

Winners in all the races will not be declared until the votes are certified on March 5. Candidates then have five days to request a discovery recount.

Candidates can choose up to 25 percent of precincts for consideration, and they must foot the bill for the discovery recount. The Illinois Supreme Court then decides if the results warrant a sate-wide recount. If the Supreme Court gives the go ahead, the burden of cost then falls on the state.

Dillard said he doesn't think waiting to make a decision will hurt party unity. On the contrary, he said it is a plus for Republicans that the party has two candidates to carry its message.

Lieutenant governor

By Rachel Wells

Walker/Hartigan, Stevenson/Fairchild, Blagojevich/Quinn, and now Quinn/Cohen: Governors in Illinois, with a few exceptions, run a streak of less-than-happy lieutenant governor pairings.

So, while shocking, the latest pairing of incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn -- historically portrayed as a squeaky clean reformer -- and political newcomer Scott Lee Cohen -- a pawnshop owner accused of domestic battery -- isn’t entirely surprising. It’s history repeating itself, and we should have seen it coming, a few political observers agree.

“It could have been avoided,” said Mike Lawrence, retired director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. “When the current Constitution was enacted in 1970, it allowed the General Assembly to determine that the governor and lieutenant governor could be nominated jointly. The legislature has never followed up on that.”

Soon after the Constitution was ratified, alarm bells should have sounded in 1973 with the election of Neil Hartigan and Dan Walker, Lawrence said. As an anti-organization candidate, Gov. Walker clashed with Lt. Gov. Hartigan, a Chicago Machine ward committeeman.

Another warning that has since become infamous came in 1986. Although a slew of candidates organized by extremist Lyndon LaRouche Jr. failed to file complete petitions, the Democratic party, whose banner they were running under, put up no protest. The candidates, including eventual lieutenant governor nominee Mark Fairchild, were not seen as threats. To political onlookers’ surprise, Fairchild won the primary and was automatically paired with powerful former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson III. Rather than partner with Fairchild, Stevenson ran under a specially minted party banner but lost to Republican Jim Thompson.

“It was a nightmare for the Democratic Party,” said Michaelson, the former director of the Illinois State Board of Elections. “Of course, the Republicans swept everything.”

“There was a wake up call in 1986, and the General Assembly continued to sleep,” Lawrence said. “I think it’s absolutely irresponsible that something wasn’t done about this a long time ago.”

Lawrence said tying the two positions together for the primary would be ideal. If the legislature doesn’t take action, Lawrence said, the lieutenant governor’s seat should be eliminated and the line of succession reorganized. Either way would help ensure a smooth transition if the governor became unable to serve.

Constitutional convention delegate Dawn Clark Netsch, now a professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said there was discussion in 1970 of eliminating the position, but the idea didn’t gain enough traction. “Probably the argument most made was [the lieutenant governor’s seat] provided another opening … for allowing people who maybe were not part of the establishment … another place for them to get their feet wet,” Netsch said. But, “I think it’s not that useful in that respect. We’ve got enough state elective offices. It certainly does lend itself to occasional problems, like now.”

“I can’t remember why we were not able to pass it after the ‘86 fiasco,” said Netsch, a former state comptroller and Democratic nominee for governor. “I’m sure there are political motivations, but I honestly don’t know what they are.”

Reaction to the 1986 race wasn’t about changing election policy, though, Michaelson said. “Most of the conversation revolved around the ineptness of the Democrats during the primary season.” Between blaming of the media and the party organization for not exposing Fairchild’s flaws, election policy didn’t get enough attention to effect change. The scandal over Cohen’s nomination is panning out in a similar way. Time will tell if it will move past finger-pointing to statutory change.

Besides the Quinn-Cohen situation, the 2010 primary had the potential for other tumultuous pairings because Republican lieutenant governor candidate Matt Murphy unofficially ran with governor candidate Andy McKenna. Former Gov. Jim Edgar on Thursday explained the problems at a post-election analysis:

Edgar insisted that a governor should have confidence in his lieutenant governor for the position to be at all functional.

In the same forum, David Yepson, current director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, called both Cohen and young Republican lieutenant governor nominee Jason Plummer “a bullet in a chamber.”

“Apparently nobody was paying attention to the office of lieutenant governor, and that allowed people to just go their own way and allowed somebody to put enough money (into the race),” Netsch said. “I think they’re going to be paying a little more attention (now). Of course, I thought that in 1986.”

Michaelson expects to hear more talk of abolishing the lieutenant governor seat. “The state is in a terrible position, but I don’t think it is because there is no lieutenant governor ”

Forsyth Republican Rep. Bill Mitchell is the sponsor of a constitutional amendment to eliminate the lieutenant governor's office. He said the fact that the office has been empty since Quinn became governor shows that it is unnecessary.

“I can think of no compelling reason to keep the office,” Mitchell said. “That being said, I think that recent events make my legislation all the more important.”

UPDATE: Voters would also have the chance to eliminate through constitutional amendment the lieutenant governor position, under a resolution introduced by House Speaker Michael Madigan February 10.

If lawmakers approve HJRCA 50, the measure could appear on the Nov. 2, 2010, general election ballot. The bill calls for abolishing the position in 2015 and would make the Attorney General next in line for the Governor’s seat.

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