The Better Government Association, the Union League Club of Chicago and the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University are hosting an April 7 symposium to discuss term limits for public officials in Illinois.
The event at the Union League Club of Chicago will bring together political and policy experts to examine key questions surrounding term limits: How they’ve worked in other places; whether they’re a good idea for Illinois and local communities; and what it would take to make them reality in Illinois.
Former Gov. Jim Edgar, Dr. Karl Kurtz of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and Dr. Christopher Mooney of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois at have agreed to make presentations.
The co-sponsors also invited the winners of the Democratic and Republican primaries for governor, Pat Quinn and Bruce Rauner, to join the discussion and share their thoughts on the issue.
“We’re pleased to be working with the BGA and the Union League Club on this important issue,” said David Yepsen, director of the Simon Institute. “Both organizations have long histories of working to improve civic life in Illinois and all of us hope to shed some light on the plusses and minuses of term limiting public officials in the state.”
Andy Shaw, the head of the BGA, said his organization “is excited to be partnering with our friends and colleagues at the Simon Institute and the Union League Club of Chicago for a deep dive into a topic that’s near and dear to the hearts of many voters: term limits. Polls indicate a vast majority of Illinois residents support term limits for elected officials, but is it constitutional? And, if so, how could it be done? And, perhaps most importantly, will it produce better government? This is part of the BGA’s commitment to shining a light on government and holding public officials accountable.”
David Kohn, the Union League Club’s Executive Director of Public Affairs and a member of the BGA board, said the forum “is in keeping with the club’s tradition of leadership in discussing the most important public policy issues of the day and our ‘commitment to community and country.’”
Critics of term limits say they take options away from voters. They also say term limits increase the power of unelected staff members and lobbyists by depriving government of experienced lawmakers with institutional memory.
Opponents also point out that there’s no evidence term limits actually produce better government without other significant reforms.
Supporters of term limits say incumbents have so much power in Illinois – the ability to raise large amounts of campaign money, districts often drawn to protect them, and weak political parties – that term limits are often the only way to give fresh faces and ideas a chance.
The state’s fiscal and ethical problems are so large, they argue, that citizens deserve new people with fresh ideas to solve them.
There are also questions of just who should be term limited. Some have talked about term limiting legislators, term limiting legislative leaders, or statewide and local elected officials.
“We hope to bring together leading political and academic experts to shed some light on this important topic,” Yepsen said.
The symposium begins with an 8 a.m. registration and is scheduled to conclude at 2 p.m. A $15 fee is charged to help cover the cost of the event, which includes a continental breakfast and lunch. NOTE: The Union League Club maintains a “business casual” dress code (i.e., no jeans or denim).