NEWS

Illinois Constitutional Convention will be on the November ballot

Cathy Decker/Staff reporter
Bruno Behrens (left) and Matt Bisbee, took a whirlwind tour of Illinois on Sept. 11, 2008, to bring the issue of a proposed Constitutional Convention in Illinois into the public eye. The question will be on the Nov. 4, 2008 ballot.

Voters this Nov. 4 will be asked a yes-no question on a proposed call for an Illinois Constitutional Convention. Every 20 years voters get to decide whether the Illinois Constitution needs to be revamped. The last question was asked in 1988, with 75 percent of those voting no.

Illinois last held a constitutional convention in 1969-70, with a new Illinois Constitution adopted in 1970. The purpose of the state constitution is to establish a structure for governing the state, including local jurisdictions.

Households in Illinois recently received an eight-page pamphlet from the Secretary of State's office, explaining the ballot issue, listing the pros and cons of the question. This pamphlet can be found at the Secretary of State web site at www.cyberdriveillinois.com.

Recently one supporter of holding the constitutional convention made a whirlwind tour of the state, stopping at The Times Record office, besides, places like Quincy, Springfield, Peoria, Rock Island and Rockford, to share his passion for holding the convention. He said that Illinois is notorious for its gerrymandering, a term meaning drawing up legislative districts to favor a certain political party. "Gerrymandering is a problem all voters are going to have to consider," said Bruno Behrend, a member of Illinois Citizens Coalition.

Behrend, along with John Bambenek, have written a book, Illinois Deserves Better, The Ironclad Case FOR an Illinois Constitution. He calls this ballot question "the most important vote for everyone in Illinois."

A convention will either rewrite the constitution and/or propose amendments to the current constitution. Any desired changes will then be submitted to the voters as referenda questions.

"The first half of the book lays out what's wrong with Illinois," said Behrend. "The 1970 convention was almost a planned power grab and concentrated it in a political class, primarily in Chicago."

He said that state taxes, especially in Chicago and Cook County are the highest in the nation.

In 1970 the power was taken from Illinois citizens, he added. He said that one problem is the state's balanced budget. "There is a clause of taking care of state employees - the pensioner guarantee clause," he said. The problem is "they didn't develop a way to guarantee funding for the program."

The issue is probably going to heat up some, he claimed. "We're a very small David against a well funded Goliath," said Behrend.

The group that is in favor of the status quo is called Alliance to Protect the Illinois Constitution.

"We have fun debating," he said. He said the Illinois Citizens Coalition has funded between 10-15 debates between the two sides before the election this November.

Behrend is one of the hosts of a radio program on WKRS, out of Waukegan, near Chicago. For more information contact the Illinois Citizens Coalition at www.illinoiscitizenscoalition.com.