Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Oh, be quiet! They’re just finishing the term you elected them to – two years ago

Will the Capitol complex this week see honest government activity? Or the usual political cowardice passing for introspective thought?
We’re going to hear quite a bit of whining in coming days related to the government activity taking place this week at the Statehouse in Springfield.

The “whining” is going to be about that “dreaded” concept that some would claim is subverting the will of the people – otherwise known as the political lame duck.

WE’RE TALKING ABOUT those legislators whose current terms end this week, and are not returning for another term in the General Assembly next week either because they “retired” or they managed to lose a bid for re-election – either in the primary back in February, 2010 or in the general election in November of last year.

The idea being that these legislators are somehow out of control because they don’t have to fear the consequences of voters confronting them about their actions – they either are leaving voluntarily, or they already have suffered the greatest anguish (electoral defeat) that a government official can endure.

There also are those from the political opposition who seem to think that the replacement candidates who won either back in February or in November should somehow now be in  place in the Legislature – to prevent this political calamity from occurring.

¡Dios Mio! Whatever shall we do?

WHAT WE OUGHT to do is relax. These people, who also complained back when the Congress was in session in December under similar circumstances, are merely hypocrites. They’re really just too eager to get into office and start mucking things up. If anything, I’m wondering if these people are the last ones we should ever want elected to office.

For many of these “lame duck” officials, they were elected to their current terms back in the 2008 election cycle (although in the Illinois Senate, some were picked back in 2006). They were all chosen by a majority of voters to serve two- (or four-)year terms that would end the second week of January 2011.

All these officials are doing is fulfilling their final duties before they depart (although I won’t be surprised if at least a few of them try running for some sort of government post in the future). They certainly aren’t doing anything wrong.

In fact, I honestly believe this week might (and that’s a very big “might”) be the one time when we see at least a few of these legislators conduct themselves in an honest manner. Not having to worry about electoral repercussions. Having the ability to just “do” whatever they think is the right thing to do.

MAYBE NOT EVEN have to worry about how their respective legislative leader will “punish” them for not going with the partisan flow. After all, how “scary” can Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, be if he’s out of your political life after next week?

Because once the new state Constitutional officers get sworn into office on Monday for new four-year terms running through January 2015 (even though the next general elections for those posts will be held in November 2014) and the newly-elected General Assembly is sworn in in mid-week, things will return to normal – insofar as partisanship is concerned,.

A part of me thinks we ought to think of this week as a bit of political refreshment – similar to what we got from Congress when they convened in December. Aside from the DREAM Act (which the ideologues were determined to whack because it is immigration reform-related), things actually occurred in Congress.

Who outside of the hard-core activists allied with the GOP is upset? And the only reason they’re bothered is because the activity reflected well on President Barack Obama (who on Monday AND Tuesday had a “50 percent” approval rating from the Gallup Organization, his highest in months).

PERHAPS THAT IS the same problem that some people have with what could happen in Springfield this coming week.

There is talk that the death penalty may be abolished by the Illinois Legislature (I’ll believe it when I see it). There also is rhetoric about gambling expansion, and FINALLY taking some sort of action that could help reduce the size of the state budget deficit (which some economists estimate could reach $15 billion by the beginning of state fiscal year 2012 – a.k.a., July 1).

Some of that is talk of tax increases to raise revenue the state needs to cover its expenses, while there also is talk of some serious borrowing to get the money. That is not pleasant to hear.

But the fact is that we have ridiculously absurd financial problems that have become worse in recent years because of state officials who didn’t want to do anything except push the problem off to a future year – because they feared electoral repercussions. This might be the one week we don’t get that. Then again, maybe we do. Some elected officials have a cowardly streak when it comes to taking action.

AND AS FOR those who are going to claim their indecisiveness somehow reflects the mood of their particular constituents, I’d argue that people are split and that part of the job of an elected official is to make tough decisions – even if it leaves one politically unpopular.

So for those people who are going to complain about the “lame ducks” voting for something they can’t stand, I’d have to say “Pipe down.”

Because after next week, the odds are good that your preferred officials will get their two-year chance to act in whatever manner they choose – and even they will get to stick around for a couple of months beyond the November 2013 election cycle.

Someday, they’ll get to be “lame ducks” too.


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