Politicians debate merit of term limits

By Dan Jacobson

Two state politicians are spearheading a campaign for a constitutional amendment that would place term limits on Illinois state legislators.

But a DeKalb representative has doubts about the need for term limits.

Illinois Treasurer Patrick Quinn and DuPage County Board Chairman Aldo Botti have begun to petition for an amendment to limit the term of office for legislators to eight years.

Quinn and Botti are building a coalition campaign called “Eight is Enough” to get 260,593 signatures by May 8 in order to get the measure on the 1994 ballot.

Quinn, a Democrat, said limiting the length of terms of top public officials is a good way for the voters to protest against the abuses of concentrated political power.

“Today in Illinois, we have too many career politicians in both parties who are more worried about pleasing lobbyists and staying in office, than in squarely addressing the important issues of the day,” Quinn said in a press-release.

“We need to limit the powers of incumbency and make room for new people with fresh ideas to enter the political system,” he added.

If terms are limited, statewide elected officials will be more productive, devote more time to their duties and be bolder in political decision-making, he said.

“Term limits in Illinois will increase the frequency that Illinois elected officials will think of the next generation rather than the next election,” Quinn said.

However, Illinois Rep. David Wirsing (R-DeKalb), who is in his first two-year term, said he has a lot of questions as to why Illinois legislators need term limits.

“We’ve got a great system of government here,” he said. “We should improve the process we’ve got (for electing public officials) with the process we’ve got.”

Wirsing said he thinks there are some politicians who should be urged to move to other offices. “We’ve got people who continue to get re-elected who should move on.”

Wirsing believes term-limitations could create a lack of interest for the legislative offices. “The road to getting re-elected is not an easy one. (A candidate) might see they could be earning more money in the private sector than in the office (of a state legislator).”

But Botti, a Republican, said he believes the “Eight is Enough” campaign is just the beginning of many coalitions to limit the length of terms.

“I anticipate that other individuals and organizations will be working with us to limit terms of our legislators,” he said.

“Term limits make good sense,” Botti said. “It is not a new concept. For example, the U.S. Presidency and 31 governorships are already covered by term limits. In 1992, legislative term limit propositions won in all 14 states that voted on them.”

Wirsing said term limitations might create apathy among the voters. “Having term limitations doesn’t encourage the general population to go to the booth and vote if they know the candidate is only going to be in office a short time,” he said.

Illinois Sen. Dave Syverson (R-Rockford), said the “Eight is Enough” campaign is not the change Illinois government needs.

“I strongly oppose the eight-year term limit,” Syverson said. “It is absolutely ridiculous and it doesn’t surprise me that it came from Pat Quinn.”

Syverson said he has always supported term limitations but eight years is not the right idea. The eight-year limit would force many senators to hold only one term of office because of their present term lengths, he said.

Elections for senators come up on a four-two-four year scenario. If a senator’s first term was four years, then the next term would be two years. The senator would not be able to fulfill the eight years because the next term would have to be four years and would exceed the eight-year limit, he said.

“They didn’t think this thing through enough,” Syverson said. “Ten years would be more realistic. Eight years would be a total disaster to Illinois.”