Term limits popular with local voters, but Illinois state lawmakers try to blunt reforms

Term limits popular with local voters, but Illinois state lawmakers try to blunt reforms

Since 2014 alone, voters in 11 suburban Cook County communities approved term limits on elected leaders. A bill in the Illinois General Assembly seeks to curb those reforms.

Local term limits are growing in popularity, but Illinois state lawmakers may use their lame-duck session to resurrect a bill that would weaken the reforms achieved by voters.

House Bill 5698 aims to restrict the reach of local term limits by exempting incumbent officeholders from them. State representatives passed the bill in November 2018, but it failed to find sufficient support in the Senate. The upper chamber may revisit the proposal Jan. 7 or 8 during lame-duck session, according to the Daily Southtown.

All local term limit referendums would be “prospective,” as opposed to retroactive, under HB 5698. That means those holding offices on or before the date a term limit law takes effect would be exempted from it and allowed to continue seeking re-election.

The bill itself would apply retroactively: Local term limit referendums passed on or after Nov. 8, 2016, would be effectively overturned for elected leaders who’d held office at the time of passage.

The bill needed a three-fifths majority of 36 votes to pass, but only drew 28 “yeas” and had nearly as many senators failing to record a vote as had senators voting against it.

Sweeping the suburbs

Efforts to curtail local government term limits with HB 5698 come at a time when voters are enthusiastic about the reforms.

The Southtown reports 11 communities in Cook County alone passed term limit referendums within the past four years, with nine in the south and southwestern suburbs. Half of the suburban referendums surpassed 80 percent voter approval, while none saw less than 63 percent.

“If it gets on the ballot, chances are it’s going to pass,” Max Solomon, an attorney and former Democratic candidate for state Senate, told the Southtown. Solomon led a successful campaign in 2017 to enact term limits in the Cook County village of Hazel Crest. “People want term limits on their local officials,” he said, but the difficulty of landing a referendum on the ballot remains a significant barrier.

HB 5698 would create a new barrier for voters, in addition to ballot access issues. Incumbents have many advantages over challengers, including fundraising leverage and name recognition. Freeing incumbent politicians from the constraints of term limits would allow failed or corrupt leaders to continue holding office well into the future.

In the south Chicago suburb of Harvey, Eric Kellogg has been mayor since 2003. Rampant political corruption in Kellogg’s administration has subjected its residents to worsening governmental dysfunction and economic hardship. The mayor is currently barred from seeking another term, thanks to voters’ support for a term limit referendum led by Harvey Ald. Chris Clark.

That could change. If HB 5698 were to become law, Kellogg would be free to continue imposing his failed administration on ailing Harvey.

If Springfield wishes to begin 2019 with a renewed commitment to the interests of voters, lawmakers should keep HB 5698 off the table.

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