by Mick Dumke
No matter what else happens in Springfield today, lawmakers are certain to head home for the holidays reminding us that they are, in fact, reformers, and hoping we'll think of them fondly when campaigns for the 2010 primaries begin in earnest a few months from now.
Yesterday Illinois House members signed off on several measures designed to reassure the public that they are not Rod Blagojevich. A couple of days earlier senators presented their reform plans . . . then decided not to act on them just yet.
To no one’s surprise, party leaders have been cool to the idea. They want to be able to spread their cash around to legislators so they can accumulate IOUs as they vie for control of the General Assembly. Right now not many lawmakers avoid ending up beholden to them.
But in these post-Blago times, there's probably a small political opening for good government types willing to risk pissing off the party leaders by taking reform plans straight to voters.
Count state rep Julie Hamos as one of them. Over the last couple of weeks she's been making a crusade of her opposition to opposition to contribution reforms. In interviews on TV and radio, in e-mails to supporters and appeals on Facebook, she’s asked voters to sign a petition calling for a $2,400 annual cap on individual contributions and “strict” limits on transfers from party campaign funds.
“Money makes it easier for our leaders to help us in our campaigns, and the status quo is very comfortable for some of my colleagues,” she told me when we chatted after some of her people got in touch. “But the public is very unhappy with the fact that we’re a national laughingstock and that we went through an impeachment.
"Pay-to-play politics really has become the metaphor for corruption in Illinois. Nobody sells his soul for $2,400—but when we get to $10,000, $20,000, $50,000, $100,000, there is an agenda there.”
Hamos is no newcomer to reform—in addition to supporting ethics reform through the years, she took the lead in raising questions about the policies at Tamms supermax prison when it wasn't going to win her big votes in her North Shore district. Now Quinn and new state prison head Michael Randle are contemplating changes at Tamms.
Of course, politics is politics, and Hamos is exploring a bid for Illinois attorney general. The contributions fight won’t hurt her public image if she embarks on a statewide campaign.
“Actually, it’s sort of cutting off my nose to spite my face,” Hamos insisted, pointing out that she’s not endearing herself to party leaders. “I’m not thinking about my own fortunes here. In the next campaign cycle there will be candidates who’ve already made a fortune under the old system. Truthfully, this doesn’t help me specifically, but it should help all of us as elected officials because we need to get some of the public’s trust back.”
Hamos says she’s waiting to see whether Lisa Madigan decides to run for governor or U.S. Senate. “Lisa herself has said she’s the first domino,” Hamos said. “But I’m getting out and presenting myself to voters as a new-style leader. I think voters are hungry for an independent thinker.”
One or two wouldn’t hurt, no.