A pair of Republican lawmakers are proposing changes to Illinois’ constitution that would expand voters’ ability to recall elections in Illinois — something currently reserved only for the governor.
State Rep. Mark Batinick (R-Plainfield) and State Sen. Jason Barickman (R-Bloomington) said Tuesday they plan to introduce three amendments when the new General Assembly reconvenes in January, each opening up a new category of elected officials to be recalled.
Instead of just being able to recall the governor, Illinois voters would be able to recall all local elected officials, all state lawmakers (but no members of Congress as they’re governed by federal election law) and all state constitutional officers. The amendments would also include the state’s auditor general, the state Senate president and the state House speaker.
It’s no coincidence that legislative leaders like the House speaker are specifically included in the amendments, Batinick said. The current occupant of that office, longtime House Speaker Mike Madigan, is at the center of a federal investigation alleging former Commonwealth Edison lobbyists and officials conspired to curry favor with him by awarding jobs and contracts to the speaker’s allies. While five officials have been indicted — four pleading not guilty and one who pleaded guilty in September — Madigan has not been charged.
But Batinick said the federal probe has created a dark cloud over Madigan and the rest of the legislature.
“The politicians need to start looking over their shoulder a little bit,” Batinick said. “And when you have somebody like the Speaker who literally is not accountable to the people of the state, the people that he has a lot of control over, I think that’s a problem.”
It’s been a decade since voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing for an Illinois governor to be recalled. Voters OK’d that 2010 amendment in the wake of ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest, impeachment and conviction on corruption charges just a few years after his predecessor, Gov. George Ryan, was also convicted in a separate scheme.
But ten years later, Barickman says that recall process “is in name only,” pointing to the high bar those wishing to initiate a recall election have to reach. The current process requires at least 15% of the number of voters who cast ballots in the last gubernatorial election to sign petitions — spread out in at least 25 of Illinois’ 102 counties.
Then, those seeking to recall a governor must also get signatures from at least 30 members of the General Assembly, split evenly between Republicans and Democrats. It’s a tall order that Barickman says is inactionable.
“It’s very cumbersome…it requires a citizen to jump through massive hurdles,” Barickman said. “No one would be able to use it; it’s nearly impossible to use.”
Instead, Barickman and Batinick modeled their proposed amendments off of recall processes used in other states.
Under their proposal, 12% of the voters who cast votes for governor in the last election would need to sign a petition in order to initiate the recall process for constitutional officers and state lawmakers. That figure changes on a sliding scale for recalling local officials, depending on population.
For all of the amendments, 60% of voters would have to vote in favor of recall in order for an official to be ousted. The recall election would take place for the next planned Election Day, whether it be a primary, general or municipal election.
Batinick and Barickman insisted their proposal would not be abused, pointing to the 60% threshold for recall. But they would not say Tuesday whether they would consider limiting political action committees to be formed in order to assist with recall efforts.
Conservatives spent millions in an effort to boot Illinois Supreme Court Justice Tom Kilbride from the bench last month in a retention election. But Batinick insisted that was different, despite the similar 60% threshold.
Asked Tuesday if the pair had plans to initiate a recall against Pritzker or attempt to impeach the governor, Barickman said their effort was about "equip[ping] citizens" with better tools to check their political leaders. Pritzker last week was asked if he was worried about any sort of impeachment attempt.
“Is that a real question?” Pritzker asked during Friday’s daily briefing. “I don’t know how to answer that.
Batinick said he viewed the threat of recall as “preventative medicine,” and said a robust recall mechanism in Illinois may have changed behavior on both sides of the bitter political battle surrounding the state’s two-year budget impasse from 2015 to 2017.
“Are you telling me that the governor [Rauner] would not have done a better job of selling his position if there was a threat of recall against him?” Batinick said.
He also characterized Madigan’s steadfast resistance to Rauner’s pro-business, anti-public sector union agenda as a willingness to “cripple anybody for political gain.”
“It would have been different if there was a recall situation allowed. But there isn’t,” Batinick told NPR Illinois. “If there was — if the people could’ve spoken, they would have thrown [Madigan] out of office during that budget crisis, and we wouldn’t have the travesty that we had.”