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Thursday, May 14, 2009

I was in the Illinois Senate Democratic Caucus disarranging their reforms*

The Illinois State Senate Democratic Caucus held a blogger conference call tonight in which I participated. The purpose was to specifically address reform legislation to be enacted in response to the Illinois Reform Commission's report (95 page PDF). The participants were invited to submit up to three questions in advance, which I did.

In attendance were Assistant Majority Leader Don Harmon, Assistant Majority Leader Jeffrey Schoenberg (also a blogger), and Senator Kwame Raoul, together with some bloggers, including John Patterson of the Daily Herald Animal Farm, Kevin Robinson of Chicagoist, Larry Handlin of ArchPundit, David Ormsby for himself and Huffington Post, Allison of Philosophe Forum, and some others whose names I didn't get or who didn't identify themselves. Obviously, some of these people are more than just bloggers. Needless to say, I was honored and surprised to be included.

I did take some notes, but I'm not going to do much quoting verbatim. (Hey, I'm just a blogger, not a journalist, and barely a writer.) Instead, these are my impressions of the conversation. John Patterson live-blogged the call and has better quotes and a lot more details than I've got here.

First of all, I didn't know what to expect except that perhaps they would try to sell us... something? I have to say, though, that the senators seemed truly genuine and serious about their job. Their enthusiasm and confidence makes me feel a lot better about the prospects of putting reforms in place in Illinois now than back in February, and when the report was issued.

It goes without saying, even though they did say it, the biggest thing they've tackled so far this year (or maybe in history) was the impeachment of former governor Rod Blagojevich. That and the previous former governor, George Ryan's incarceration on federal charges would make this the year we "turn the corner" on reform, even without a special commission. That is, they recognize that the citizens recognize that there have been certain people who have been "working in the shadows of the public trust for their own benefit."

The senators mentioned more than once their momentous act of already getting legislation passed and to the governor's desk that changes the way state pension boards are filled. Board members will now have to submit a statement of economic interest. With this legislation they shut down the possibility of a board member being paid just for knowing the right person. They also expressed their disappointment with mainstream media's lack of coverage of this topic. And, to be honest I was only vaguely aware this had happened. Making a mental note to do some background and blog about this in the future.

While they didn't read my specific questions out loud, they did cover parts of them. One thing I asked:

Looking at the reform recommendations and at the calendar, I can't help but ask, where do we go from here if we don't get all the recommended reforms passed during this session? Only some? None?

They made it very clear that there is bi-partisan support for getting the reforms passed this time around. However, the general assembly has a lot on its plate this session, not the least of which are the budget and getting people back to work. And, it's not that some reforms are more important than others, but some can be put in the pot to simmer until later (my words, not theirs). Specifically, redistricting the state, which doesn't have to happen until next year, and term limits for legislative leaders. It appears, however, that they take these reforms seriously and that legislation will be passed.

Another question I sent in:

As soon as I started reading the reform commission's report, my first thought was, oh no, they should have had a nay-sayer or devil's advocate on the commission - someone to tell them what was wrong with their recommendations. (I'm assuming there wasn't such a person.) That is, surely someone can find something wrong (for lack of a better word) with each and every recommendation as they've been set forth. So, how feasible is it really to actually make these recommendations into law? Are we aiming to do all of them? How can any of them be made simpler?

The people on the commission are totally outside the legislative process. Very few of the recommendations are new or novel ideas. So, that is good, in a way. In addition to the Illinois Reform Commission there is the Joint Committee on Reform (I think that's the name). A lot of people are involved in making legislation. They are working with the Legislative Reference Bureau and the commission's chairman, Patrick Collins, a former federal prosecutor, to get the recommendations made into law.

The senators acknowledged that reform is not just about enacting laws, but also about the way people in government conduct themselves.

There was a lot more discussion on the specific issues raised in the report, but that will have to wait for another time.

It was a great conference call. If they have another, I hope to be invited back.

* Sorry for the title; couldn't help it. And, I hope I didn't do too much disarranging. Corrections invited.

Edit: Philosophe Forum has a post up: Information on the Illinois Reform Commission

Posted by Marie at May 14, 2009 11:54 PM

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