Gov. Pat Quinn wants you to know that he tried very, very hard to give voters the chance to impose term limits on lawmakers. Twenty years ago, that is.
Where's he been lately?
Last week, the governor's re-election campaign sent around a 1993 photo of Quinn — who was then the state treasurer, preparing to run for secretary of state — plugging his "Eight is Enough" amendment in front of a statue of a young Abraham Lincoln.
That amendment was knocked off the ballot by the Illinois Supreme Court in August 1994.
Fast-forward to last Friday, when a Cook County Circuit Court judge ruled a different term limits proposal invalid, setting in motion an appeals process that no doubt will end, again, in the state Supreme Court. This time, the term limits banner is being waved by Bruce Rauner, Quinn's Republican opponent.
In a statement accompanying that archival photo, the Quinn campaign feigned disappointment that the state's Democratic cabal had crushed a citizens' initiative, then gleefully pointed a finger at Rauner's "poorly drafted election-year proposal."
"Rauner has nobody but himself to blame for harming the term limits cause," the statement said. "As the governor said in 1994 and believes to this day, it is unfortunate that the people of Illinois have been denied the ability to enact pure term limits directly through referendum as Gov. Quinn has long advocated."
Yes, it's unfortunate. But we'll ask again: Where was Quinn? What has he done to advance the term limits cause in the 20 years since "Eight is Enough" — also an election-year proposal — was spiked?
Where was Quinn, for that matter, while a second people-power initiative was dying from the thousand cuts inflicted by House Speaker Michael Madigan's band of assassins? That amendment, which would have taken the job of drawing legislative boundaries away from Madigan, was struck down in the same ruling as the term limits measure.
Later that day, the remap campaign withdrew its petitions.
Funny thing: When Quinn stepped up to replace the impeached Rod Blagojevich, his first order of business was to name an ethics task force to rid state government of corruption. Two of the panel's primary recommendations were term limits and independent redistricting.
Quinn didn't lift a finger to make either of those things happen.
He didn't join the fight when the League of Women Voters tried to get a fair map amendment on the ballot in 2010, either.
He kept his mouth shut while Madigan & Co. gerrymandered the districts following the 2010 U.S. Census. And then Quinn signed those maps into law. He owns them.
And those maps are Exhibit A in favor of term limits. The maps are so stacked that in more than half the districts, only one candidate will appear on this year's Nov. 4 ballot. Voters don't get to pick their representative. It's already been decided. That's why the idea of term limits has gained so much traction: It's the only way voters can throw the bums out.
We come to term limits as converts. We opposed term limits, but became convinced they were necessary after witnessing election after election for the legislature in which gerrymandering and concentrated political power robbed voters of any real choice.
In an October 2010 editorial headlined "The protection racket," we noted that "the state is $13 billion in the hole, this is supposed to be a watershed political year — yet no more than 20 of the 118 seats in the Illinois House are truly competitive. Even fewer Senate races are competitive."
Governor, we tried to join your cause.
Is it still your cause?
"Illinois voters are tired of the same old gridlock in Springfield that annually fails to provide meaningful solutions to our state's problems. Too often, real action on vital subjects like improving our schools, reforming our unfair tax system and protecting citizens against crime and violence must yield to the re-election needs of political incumbents."
That was Quinn the candidate, arguing for term limits in a 1994 op-ed published in the Tribune. Quinn the governor — he's had five years now — has wasted the opportunity to promote the reforms he once demanded. It's disappointing.
His only contribution to the term limits debate lately has been to take a cheap political shot at his opponent after the people had a bad day in court. That's not remotely helpful. When did Quinn the reformer become Quinn the bystander?