Monday, October 01, 2007

Note to Legislature: Legislation, not Personality Conflict, is the Reason for Sessions

The legislature returns to the state capitol today to address gubernatorial vetoes and emergency legislation in their annual "veto session." Of course, they're still in regular session, and 16 special sessions, so there's no telling what they might do.

2007 has set too many dismal records to count. In addition to the obvious "longest overtime session," this may also be dubbed the least productive session in recent memory. Rather than argue over the substance of legislation (which, whether the argument takes place among rank and file members or among the four tops is usually what long sessions are for), this one is instead focused on personality conflicts and power trips.

The first year of the four-year statewide term finds the state's three most powerful Democrats locked in a battle to determine which one of them is really in charge. Leaders do this sometimes, but the check on this bad behavior is usually the other 173 legislators who serve as ballast, pulling their leaders back to more rational positions.

But not this year. While the leaders squabble, the other 173 have been just witnesses. Why? The Kankakee Daily Journal editorialized over the weekend with a list of reasons. And their main focus? The concentration of campaign funds in the Four Tops.

"The leaders get to decide if you will have an opponent who's well-funded -- or none at all. To be competitive in a "targeted" race means $500,000 for a House seat and $1 million for a Senate seat."

Their fixes include a host of campaign finance reforms to end the concentration of money at the top: stop transfers, bar stockpiling of money, eliminate giving by gambling interests. Lastly? Limit donations, to force members to broaden their financial base and reach out to small donors.

The Daily Journal's suggestions are well worth considering. Especially this week. If nothing else comes of this year's session, perhaps we can at least get a sense of the problems we face, and why it can be so hard to keep the leaders' focus where it should be.

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