In the race to the financial bottom the State of Illinois vies nicely with several other states, including (depending on the precise year involved) California, New York, and Ohio, with a projected 2012 deficit exceeding 43.8 Billion. (The actual deficit, incorporating more realistic assumed internal investment returns, may be closer to $100 billion.) Like that of its close competitors, much of the Illinois deficit stems from unfunded liability for defined benefit pensions promised to people who used to, but no longer, work for the State.
In terms of political corruption, too, the list may vary from year to year but Illinois is a solid competitor. Four of the past eight Illinois governors have gone to federal prison, including one (Republican George Ryan) recently released to probation following the death of his elderly wife and one (Democrat Rod Blagojevich) behind bars in Colorado (barring an unlikely end-of-term pardon from President Barack Obama) for years to come.
The list of Chicago aldermen and Illinois Congressmen who have been criminally convicted or imprisoned is too lengthy to detail here, but includes former House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Rostenkowski, the recently resigned Jesse Jackson, Jr., recently convicted Chicago Alderman William Beavers (a self-described “hog with big nuts”), and even popular former Congressman and Chicago Mayor Harold Washington himself, who once spent thirty days in jail for not filing his income tax returns.
In terms of sheer political incoherence, however, Illinois may stand unchallenged at the bottom; indeed, that sometimes seems to be its intent. As Seventh Circuit Judge Richard Posner pointed out in the Illinois gun control case of Moore v. Madigan, “Remarkably, Illinois is the only state that maintains a flat ban on carrying ready-to-use guns outside the home [emphasis in original], … . If the Illinois approach were demonstrably superior, one would expect at least one or two other states to have emulated it.”
Further proof, if any were needed, of Illinois’ unchallenged position in incoherence comes from two closely (if unintentionally) related bills out of the State capitol of Springfield.
One bill, introduced by House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) and passed by the Illinois House of Representatives on Tuesday, April 16, would automatically charge 17-year-old defendants as juveniles for crimes considered “lesser” felonies and would send the convicted defendants to juvenile correctional centers rather than to prison. Under the second bill, which State Representative Carol Sente (D-Vernon Hills) proposed last week as an amendment to House Bill 226, Illinois would nonetheless lower the voting age in primary elections to – you guessed it – 17 for those who will turn 18 in time for the general election.
In justifying the first bill, Majority Leader Currie, a fixture in the legislature since the late 1970’s, was quoted in the Chicago Tribune as saying that “I think it’s time for us to treat young people as young people because, as we know, they really are young, and their minds are not fully formed and their judgment is not always as mature as we would like it to be.”
Yet the idea behind the second bill, which passed the House Executive Committee unanimously on Monday, April 15, 2013, is exactly the opposite. According to Rep. Sente, as quoted in the April 16, 2013, Chicago Daily Law Bulletin, “if you’re ready to vote at 18 in the general election, that as a 17-year-old during the primary, where we select the primary candidates in the general, that age group could also vote.” What makes this proposed change in voting law even more shocking than it may first appear is that Illinois, as a practical matter, is a one-party state: As Oak Park-based election lawyer Richard K. Means put it in the same Law Bulletin article, “Because of gerrymandering and because of the way our districts are clearly safe districts for one party … the real contest is in the primary election.”
So there you have it – seventeen-year olds not old enough or mature enough to know right from wrong (see “Other People’s Children,” April 16, 2103) are nonetheless responsible enough to vote.
Perhaps that’s what President Obama meant in his 2013 State of the Union address when he talked about “improving the voting experience.”
Or perhaps that helps explain why Illinois is at the bottom of the heap in both political corruption and financial disarray and is likely destined to stay there.
It’s like they say – you can’t make this stuff up.