Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Plan to eliminate lt. gov advances

By Jamey Dunn

Whichever candidate becomes lieutenant governor may be the last person to fill the job.

A legislative committee passed a proposal today for a constitutional amendment to eliminate the office.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said eliminating an office with a nearly $2.1 million budget and few duties, other than replacing the governor if he or she is unable to serve, makes sense when the state is strapped for cash.

If the lieutenant governor’s office were eliminated, the attorney general would be next in the line of succession for the governor’s job. That could result in a shift in party power in the highest executive office when a governor of one party could be unable to serve and an attorney general from another party then stepped into the job.

Republican committee members said they supported the amendment in theory but added they did not want to fill up the ballot with constitutional amendments passed by the legislature and crowd off voter initiative amendments that reach the ballot through petitions signed by voters.

“Politically, it’s possible that if you don’t like an amendment to the constitution that is being circulated by the voters, [you could] fill up the ballot with three questions amending three articles and exempt any voter initiative out there to amend the Constitution, and that is my concern,” said Rep. Michael Tryon, a Crystal Lake Republican.

The Illinois Constitution does limit amendments proposed by the legislature to only three articles of the Constitution. For example, the lieutenant governor amendment would apply to the Executive Article, the amendment that would allow voters to recall the governor that will appear on the ballot in the general election will apply to the Suffrage and Elections Article. So if Madigan’s proposal passes, the legislature will only be able to place an amendment to one more article on the ballot in November.

However the section of the Constitution that applies to initiatives sets no such limits on amendments presented by voters. Initiatives can only amend the Legislative Article of the constitution, but the document does not limit the number of initiative amendments that can appear on the ballot.

House Minority Leader Tom Cross made what is perhaps a more pertinent argument in a letter to Madigan that the legislature should address the redistricting process before lawmakers use up all of their opportunities to place amendments on the November ballot.

When asked whether his proposed amendment was a response to the scandal over Scott Lee Cohen winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor, Madigan said he has been considering the measure for about six months.

As for replacing Cohen, he said the statewide Democratic committee plans to hold an open hearing where applicants can present their credentials, and then the committee would vote to choose a candidate in a public meeting. He said there is no timeline planned for the hearing, but the committee has an organizational meeting planned for March 15 .

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