Fixing Illinois

  1. Independent Representation
  2. Independence for All
  3. Structural Budget Reforms

Illinois is broken because we have had decades of placing politics above policy. The focus has been short-term, on the next election, instead of long-term, and what is best for our state. Personal interests and wealth over the public good. A complete unwillingness to make hard choices and use their time with the people to inform and educate about the problems and what is necessary. Instead, it is all lies and attacking the other side in ads and mailings. Wasted money on unnecessary and unqualified patronage to serve as campaign staff. While it is a bipartisan problem, it might be most clearly seen in 30 years of Madigan being both speaker and leader of the Democratic party. He controls what gets voted on to ensure he can attack or defend those votes on the campaign side. He also allocates money and campaign staff, making candidates almost an accessory. While Rauner is outright buying out the Republican party to push his personal priorities over everything else, he is using loopholes selfishly maintained by Madigan to do so.

We have to do three things if we hope to fix this. First, we have to elect independents.

What I mean by independents are people who will look into our problems, work hard to educate the electorate about the system and explain what they think should be done to fix them, have open dialogue and be willing to change based on new ideas, and then propose good bills and vote independent of politics or party. For this to work, candidates have to reject typical politics. Don’t run attack ads or mailings. Otherwise, your opponent will be scared to speak publicly or make that difficult vote, for fear of an out-of-context attack. And the public gets deprived of further understanding, from multiple perspectives. It is only an engaged and informed electorate that can save any democracy, but candidates can inspire us toward our better selves.

The next two steps build off of independent candidates, and they are what those candidates should support: making it easier for more independents to get elected and responsible, structural budget reforms.

We should make it a lot easier for anybody without political connections for run for office in Illinois. More competition would make for better representation, just as it improves life in every other part of our society:

  • Getting on the ballot requires gathering a lot of signatures. That is called ballot access. Usually that means you need other people to help you do that. Let’s lower the number of signatures required but also require candidates to gather the signatures by themselves. That would both make it easier for anyone to do and make candidates more accessible to the public.
  • Move primary elections into late spring or early summer, and vote on the weekend. This would make it easier for the average candidate to meet voters and make it easier for everyone to vote.
  • Within the bounds of free speech, limit the power of big money or big organizations to affect elections. Other states do this, and we should follow their lead. We can write stricter laws and force more transparency on how money is moved around to fund campaigns or even directly influence candidates.
  • Implement what is called Ranked Choice or Instant Runoff Voting. This could also eliminate primaries completely. It is already done in many elections and involves ranking candidates based on your own personal preference for each office instead of just voting for one. When ballots are tallied, this process allows us to avoid the phenomenon of having to vote for the lesser evil.
  • We should have legislative leadership term limits, but term limits on legislators only make sense as a last ditch effort at political reform. When it seems that the system is rigged to make incumbency too powerful, this is an option. I think that is where we are. But once we can fix the other problems, they should be removed as they are undemocratic at their core. If someone wants to serve and their constituents want them to, they should be able to. This does not apply to legislative leadership term limits where the only limit is on the legislators, not the voters.

Underlying all the other issues in Illinois and of most immediate concern is the budget. We must make responsible, structural reforms to move the state forward. These will be huge and difficult compromises that require real sacrifice. Failure by the electorate to understand these issues has led to bad politics and where we are today.

  • The fact is we need more revenue in Illinois. There is a lot of waste, fraud and abuse in state government that we need to eliminate as soon as possible, but not enough to avoid the huge increase in revenue we need. That is depressing, but more money will provide for a better state in the future, less debt financing and lower taxes in other areas. We must switch to a graduated income tax in order the raise this revenue in an affordable way, and that requires a constitutional amendment.
  • Next is reform of all of our pension systems, including the one for Chicago teachers. The best example of how this should work is the Illinois Municipal Retirement Fund. State law requires that local governments make the payments and a unified system eliminates overhead. This state-local split eliminates the ability for the responsible party to skip payments. The party responsible for payments is also the entity determining future demand with hiring and salary decisions. Of course, the state will continue to play a large part in funding the systems but will now do so through a reformed structure with proper incentives in place.
  • And last is education reform such that schools are both better and more equally funded throughout the state, and property taxes can be alleviated. Once we begin to treat the Chicago teacher pensions like all other teacher pensions, we must also treat their school district like all other school districts regarding funding. One formula, reformed to better account for more expensive exceptions as they arise, with more state funding for all. As it says in the state constitution. With enough money but also with every local area paying its fair share, this will also lower property taxes. Retain local control with limited testing to ensure a proper base of education for all. It will be costly but all spent appropriately on our most important resource, our children but also our future workforce and citizens to guide our democracy.

We need a vision. I wrote this as a framework for my understanding of what’s needed in state government going forward and as a way to explain to others my position on candidates. Going beyond political parties is hard, and we need firm ideas to guide us in this new territory. How to balance a compassionate worldview with the best ideas to get the world we want in a sea of corruption. This is the best I could come up with.