Rauner and Term Limits

Illinois is known for its unsavory politics.

Four of the last eight men elected governor in the Prairie State have ended up in prison.

We also are known for politicians who hang on to power with both hands: Daley I, Daley II. Madigan I, Madigan II.  Simon I, Simon II.

This tendency to hang on to power for as long as possible is what makes a proposal being pushed by GOP gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner interesting. Rauner’s proposal would limit elected officials to serving no more than eight years in the General Assembly.

Rauner is the only person seeking the state’s chief executive position who does not either hold elected office or is the scion of political dynasty.

This week, I asked Rauner what he could tell me about his plan to amend the state constitution and create legislative term limits.

Here are some excerpts from the interview:

RR: Why do you think Illinois is ripe for term limits?

RAUNER: We are the worst-run state in America with the most corrupt politicians in America. It’s time we dramatically shake up the system and get rid of these career politicians. We want regular, everyday people who are going into public service for the right reasons. Term limits are not the comprehensive solution to every problem we’ve got, but they are a major step in the right direction.

RR: The traditional argument against term limits is that politicians already have term limits, they’re called elections. If voters don’t like someone they can always vote them out. How would you respond? 

RAUNER: I think that is fundamentally wrong. When George Washington formed this nation, he could have been president for life.  He was honorable and a hero. He set the tone for public service in America. He said I’ll serve this country for eight years and that is enough and then I’ll let others serve.  … The power of incumbency is huge. It’s very hard to challenge incumbents. It’s very hard to bring in fresh ideas, new ways of thinking against incumbent political office holders.  And if we want fresh ideas, new leaders and real problem solving … we have got to go to term limits.

RR: You’d increase the size of the House and shrink the size of the Senate. What’s the thought behind that?  

RAUNER: First it shrinks the size of the Legislature so we save on salaries, pensions and staff. But the real driver is to make it easier for a challenger to take on an incumbent. … Three House members would be elected from each Senate district. [Currently only two are elected from each Senate district.] The power of that is that each member of House doesn’t have the built-in advantage of already representing half of the district, if they run for Senate.

RR: Any concern that power in Springfield would shift from lawmakers to lobbyists, staff, reporters and other folks who are in Springfield longer than eight years and have greater institutional memory?   

RAUNER: I think that is wrong. The decision makers in the end have the power. If they are there for the right reason and just want to serve the people, it weakens the lobbyists and the special interest groups.

RR: Do you think having this question on the ballot at the same time you appear on it would help you get elected?

RAUNER: I don’t know. This term limit process is separate and distinct from the governor’s race. I’m committed to term limits, no matter what happens in the governor’s race. This term limit process will have its own volunteers, its own staff and its own fundraising. I will not control it. I will not be the majority donor to it.

Scott Reeder
Veteran Statehouse Reporter and Journalist in Residence
Illinois Policy Institute

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