Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Referenda are what an election’s about

A part of me has always thought referenda were the unappreciated part of an Election Day’s activities.

While it is usually the “top of the ticket” that dominates the public’s attention when it comes to casting a ballot, I always get a kick out of seeing just what types of issues (rather than candidates) wind up making it onto the ballot.

IT IS ALL about a question, to which the people get to say “yes” or “no.” Sometimes, our vote gives us the ability to play God. We can literally send a cause to its demise with our “no” vote.

And if we choose to vote “yes,” we can force elected officials to take actions that they wouldn’t dream of doing under any other circumstances.

This time around, voters in parts of Cook County are being asked to consider 49 differing questions. That doesn’t mean 49 different issues, since some issues are being asked of voters in differing parts of the county.

But it is a chance for the voter to take a stand and know that collectively, we can force people to be heard.

SOME OF THESE issues are purely local.

Take Park Ridge, where officials want to build a new police station. At a cost of just over $16 million, they need local voters to approve the use of tax dollars for the construction to take place.

A similar situation exists in Kenilworth, where local voters along the North Shore will get to decide whether tax dollars, a private foundation, or no one, should pay for the renovation of a local athletic field that would include installation of artificial turf.

What about in Berwyn, where local voters are being asked whether there ought to be restrictions against medical clinics being located too close to residential neighborhoods in that west suburban town.

OR TAKE SCHILLER Park, where local voters are being asked questions about two issues that intrigue me. One is whether that suburb near O’Hare International Airport should try to crack down on the number of taverns it has with liquor licenses allowing them to stay open until 4 a.m.

Another is whether they should participate in efforts to reduce the amount of freight train traffic that passes through their town. As one who has lived in places where the railroad crossings were the great unknown factor in trying to decide how long it would take to get from “Point A” to “Point B” (it depended on whether you got stuck by a train), that would strike me as an absolute “yes” vote.

But I don’t live in Schiller Park, so ultimately I don’t have a say. This will be one of those cases left to the locals who have to live with all those freight trains passing through their town and inconveniencing the locals with their noise and disruption of automobile and pedestrian traffic flow.

Then, there are issues where certain people with causes are trying to stir up the locals.

HOW ELSE TO explain the referenda questions for voters in Barrington, Hanover and Palatine townships (far northwest suburban Cook County)? Those people are being asked whether their home communities should “disconnect” from Cook County.

People who support this idea usually like the idea of breaking off to become their own separate county, even if they would be a small, rather insignificant county on their own – rather than a part of the largest county in the Midwest (not just Illinois).

What I couldn’t help but notice is that they’re no longer using the word “secession” to describe what it is they want to do. I guess they have come to realize that the word gives off some sort of Southern rebel overtone that makes them seem like would-be traitors to the greater cause.

Instead, they come off as people with way too much free time on their hands to be thinking of such concepts as disconnection (which sounds more like something that happens when you don’t pay your phone bill on time).

THEN, THERE’S THE referendum question being asked of voters in 14 of the 30 townships of suburban Cook County – one that presumes it can make a powerful political statement because I expect just about everybody to blindly vote “yes” regardless of what would really happen if the implied action were taken.

The referendum in question informs people that a 1 percent hike in the county’s portion of sales taxes has been in effect for one year. Voters in all parts of Cook County are asked to say “yes” or “no” to whether the increase should continue to be collected.

How many people would be willing to allow the services they receive as a result of county government to be slashed if the county’s revenue were to suddenly decline due to a tax reduction?

With such potential for action turning up on the ballots being used in Tuesday’s elections, does anyone really believe the most interesting thing that will occur is soon-to-be-former Cook County Commissioner Mike Quigley beating up on la Latina loca Rosanna Pulido to finish off the congressional term of Rahm Emanuel in the U.S. House of Representatives?


EDITOR’S NOTE: The Cook County clerk’s office makes this list available of all the (http://www.voterinfonet.com/sub/view_all_referenda.asp) referenda on Tuesday’s ballots.

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