2009 Update–What Is It About Illinois?

Sorry, no catchy titles, no earthshaking ideas.  My computer has finally been rejiggered and is back at work, thanks to the wonders of the barter economy.  Chicago is cold but the skies and streets are clear.

And Illinois is in the middle of yet another political crisis.  Our probably-soon-to-be-ex-governor has appointed Roland Burris to fill Obama’s senatorial seat, and all kinds of people are refusing to accept this decision.  The Illinois Secretary of State doesn’t want to sign the papers he is required to sign, indicating that Burris has been appointed by the governor, even though that signature is an utterly insignificant ministerial act.  The Senate Democrats are promising to refuse to seat Burris, even though the Supreme Court made it absolutely clear several decades back that they have no choice in the matter.  (That was back in the days of Adam  Clayton Powell, whose district kept re-electing him while Congress kept unseating him.)  Okay, I think the appointment was a bad move on the governor’s part, and accepting it was an even worse move on Burris’ part.  What the governor should have done was named Barbara Flynn Currie (who is, incidentally, the Wired Family’s state rep.), a perfectly qualified person who also happens to be the head of the State House committee on impeachment.  Which would have thrown the impeachment process into a cocked hat, while making nobody mad.  But Burris is reasonably honest and competent (and, full disclosure here, once endorsed me when I was running for office in 1984.)  He is perfectly qualified, and nobody has any legal grounds for refusing him the senate seat.  These theatrics are nothing but a waste of time, money, and attention.  Enough already.

Meantime, Bill Richardson has withdrawn his name from consideration for Secretary of Commerce because he’s being investigated back home.  Which I guess is classier than what Burris is doing.

Which brings me back to our original question: what is it about Illinois?  Five governors indicted within my lifetime (one acquitted, one not yet tried, the others jailed for various terms. And that’s not counting two others who left office just ahead of the sheriff and are now posing as Messers. Clean while pronouncing on the current incumbent’s sins.)  The lowest ratio of spending on social needs to per capita income in the country.  School spending only slightly higher per capita than that of Mississippi, and actually lower than Alabama’s.

As the Blog Which Shall Not Be Named points out, we certainly aren’t unique–there’s always Louisiana.

Maybe what we should be asking is: what is it about voters?  A friend of mine was declaiming vigorously the other day about why our governor was allowed to appoint the new senator in the first place, rather than having a special election.  I pointed out that Illinois law, unlike that of some other states, doesn’t provide for that.  I then pointed out that it might not have helped much anyway—who, after all, put the governor in office in the first place?  Us, the voters, that’s who.  Why do we keep electing these guys?

Which brings us back to the electoral process and how voters use it:

We vote for the lesser evil.

Or we vote for the person we know the fewest bad things about.

Or we vote for the person we know anything about.

Or we vote for the person who seems to resemble us in some important way, like race, or gender, or religion, or subcultural preferences.

Or we vote for the person whom we could imagine liking, if we ever met in person.

Or we vote for the person from the party we have always voted for.

In Illinois, we not only elect our governor, senators, representatives, and sheriffs, we also elect about half of our judges.  Our ballots, as a result, are long enough to trip over on the way out of the booth, and most voters know absolutely nothing about more than 75% of the candidates.  As a lawyer, I know something about several of the judicial candidates, having practiced in front of them.  I occasionally have input into the judicial evaluations of the various bar associations, and in general I think the evaluators know what they’re doing.  So, by voting the bar association lists except where my personal experience disagrees with them, I’m doing a much better job than most voters.  Like most lawyers I know, I get asked for information before elections by many of my friends.  Maybe that helps the process too.

But this was not what the Founders had in mind.  It is also not what communitarians and Catholic advocates of “subsidiarity” have in mind.  What they were looking for, I think, was an electoral process that starts among the 500 or so people any individual voter is likely to be personally acquainted with, and works its way up through “captains of tens” and “captains of hundreds” and “captains of thousands” and so on, as originally suggested in the Jewish scriptures.  Not unlike the precinct captain-based organization of the old Chicago Machine or Tammany Hall, when you think about it.  Which was certainly no model of good government.  In fact, corruption, cronyism, and wrongheadedness seem to cluster at the levels of government most beloved of the communitarians and subsidiarists, when you think about it.  This is getting too complex for me, and it’s dinner time.  We welcome suggestions.


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