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Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette

State House change deserves a look
April 26, 2001

Voters sure took it out on the Illinois House of Representatives in
1980 when, upset about a sneaky vote by legislators to raise their
own pay, the citizenry responded by slashing the House membership
from 177 to 118. That Cutback Amendment will forever be the legacy of populist lawyer Pat Quinn, who organized the petition drive to get it
on the ballot.

The cutback had other results, however. It didn't just evict 59
members from the House and reduce spending in the lower chamber. It
unintentionally served to rid the House of many of its most
independent thinkers, those who were not beholden to either the
Democratic or Republican party bosses.

Instead of having three members from each of 59 legislative
districts -- including one from the minority party in that area --
the House was reorganized into 118 single-member districts. That had
several dismal consequences for state government. It consolidated the
power of the two partisan House leaders, so much so that they not
only have control over the bills that get heard and passed, but they
also have control (through campaign contributions) over who gets
campaign support, and even who gets elected. That same consolidation
of power has increased the amount of money spent in legislative
campaigns, making fund-raising and political action committees a
bigger factor in state government. Too often, legislative candidates
have little control over how much or how money is spent on their
campaigns. Hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign money is
funneled through the offices of Democratic House Speaker Michael
Madigan or Republican leader Lee Daniels.

There is no greater problem in Illinois government than the onerous
authority wielded by the legislative leaders.

A bill stalled in the House would allow for a statewide referendum in
2002 on returning cumulative voting in Illinois House elections. The
bill, which has support from Democrats and Republicans, including
Rep. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign, is not perfect. It calls for the
creation of 39 large, three-member districts, not the 59 districts
the House had for years before the Cutback Amendment.

But the proposal is a worthy starting point of discussion. And we
congratulate those, such as former Illinois state Rep. Abner Mikva,
and current members such as Winkel, who have encouraged a return to
multi-member House districts. The Legislature should heed their call.

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Copyright 2001 The Center for Voting and Democracy
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