The following was written by my former colleague Penny Pullen. She serves as state president for Eagle Forum of Illinois and is active in Republicans of Wheeling Township.
“No man’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”
These true words were written in a 19th-century New York court decision, and they are still true today.
It is of some comfort that we have reached the midpoint in the General Assembly’s election-year session without yet being clobbered by a tax increase.
But no Illinois citizen can afford to assume our lawmakers will not yet commit what would appear to us as a rash act of political suicide. A lot of factors go into the collective decisions that beset us from Springfield.
Here are some realities that “we the people” do not automatically grasp:
- The hallways, chambers and offices of a Capitol building are constructed with a unique brand of highly resistant insulation. (It’s only a façade, but it’s convincing to those who enter the cocoon of a legislative session, and too seldom is it penetrated by an aroused citizenry.)
- Lobbyists not only have access to lawmakers to present the unique point of view they are paid to offer; they also have built relationships with the senators and representatives over sometimes years or even decades. (How many ordinary citizens have even bothered to meet their elected lawmakers, let alone developed a relationship?)
- Special interest groups dominate the campaign fundraising for those who hold the power to aid, abet or hinder their particular interest. (Have ordinary citizens shown themselves helpful when the going gets rough, or have they sat out the necessary process of offering financial backing to a candidate who’s doing the right thing?) Campaign contributions are no guarantee that a lawmaker will vote in line with the contributor, but they certainly and understandably open the door to friendly conversation, which can be just one step away from persuasion.
- Gov. Quinn is determined to raise our taxes, and he can wield power to get what he wants. (It’s up to “we the people,” for whom he has always claimed to be speaking, to make clear that this year, on this question, Pat Quinn does not speak for us!)
- Unique tactics are available to the governor, and he is using them: Never before have legislators’ landlords been stiffed by the state for legislative office rent, making the legislators themselves logical participants in the “Enough-already – let’s-raise-taxes-to-ease-the-pain” coalition. (Yes, that looks to the ordinary person like an oxymoron, but the governor is inflicting pain on certain segments – like the government schools lobby – for the express purpose of getting them to beg for a tax increase.)
Having been an elected State Representative for 16 years, I can tell you this: Anything can happen when the legislature is in session; it doesn’t have to make sense to “we the people.”
But, an aroused, engaged citizenry – even if only for these critical days and weeks (though sustained engagement is so much better!) – can produce enough angst in a re-election-driven legislator to bring him to his senses.
The single worst thing a citizen can do right now, though, is to assume that, this being an election year, we’re safe from legislators doing dumb things.
That New York judge knew what he was talking about.
Pressure will fill the House and Senate chambers in Springfield all the way to adjournment, be that May 31 or July 15; the real question is, whose pressure?
Will pressure from the voters exceed pressure from the usual sources of power?
It’s up to “we the people.”
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Penny Pullen served in Springfield from 1977-1993 as an elected State Representative and was a member of the House Republican Leadership from 1983-1993. She authored the legislation which, in 1983, repealed the state inheritance tax and was the leading Springfield lawmaker on pro-life reforms and on public health strategies to contain the HIV/AIDS epidemic.