50 years ago, constitution updated Illinois; can it do more? | State and Regional

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50 years ago, constitution updated Illinois; can it do more?

Illinois Constitution 50 Years

Pictured is the Illinois Old State Capitol in Springfield. It was 50 years ago that Illinois voters approved a state constitution that was forward-looking and made government more efficient. Given recent headlines, it’s hard to imagine characterizing Illinois government as efficient or forward-looking.






JOHN O’CONNOR
Associated Press

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SPRINGFIELD — Given recent headlines, it’s hard to imagine characterizing Illinois government as efficient or forward-looking.

But the Illinois Constitution approved 50 years ago this week contained a credo for environmental protection that was a national harbinger. It afforded equal protection of the laws — prohibitions on rules that arbitrarily discriminate — as well as due process of law. With little discussion, it protected the rights of women in sharp contrast to the bitter fight over ratification of the federal Equal Rights Amendment a decade later.

For governance, it loosed chains forged in its 1870 predecessor which limited borrowing and erased state regulation of minutia and archaic industries. Its crown jewel was granting broad home-rule powers to larger cities, letting local residents decide how to administer city hall without Springfield interference.

"The example that they always used was, when the city of Chicago wanted to change the color of the lights on squad cars, they had to get a law passed to do it," said Charles Wheeler III, who covered the 1969 "Con-Con" in his first major assignment for the Chicago Sun-Times.

The choice was stark for the 1.12 million who voted "yes" in the Dec. 15, 1970, special election — a 57% majority. They decreed that the 1870 constitution and its restraints were obsolete.

Whether those voters thought it would still be a vibrant document a half-century hence, it’s likely none could foresee the extent of the problems facing the state today. Crushing debt that has elicited bond-house ratings just above junk status includes a $140 billion shortfall in the state’s employee pension programs. There’s a self-perpetuating consolidation of power in the General Assembly where many bemoan that lawmakers ensure political survival by drawing their own election districts.

Finally, there’s the corruption in the highest political echelons, from two governors in a row spending time in federal prison to the admission by utility giant ComEd last summer to participating in a decade-long bribery scheme that implicates House Speaker Michael Madigan, who began his career as a 1969 Con-Con delegate. The Chicago Democrat, whose subsequent 50-year House tenure has seen him become the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history, has not been charged with a crime and denies any wrongdoing.

Are the state’s political foibles and governmental failures constitutional fare? Tangentially, yes. Years of shortchanging pensions by governors and lawmakers means the budget must contribute each year up to one-quarter of its general funds budget, in the neighborhood of $9 billion, to try to catch up. A 2011 cost-saving law to reduce payouts was struck down as a violation of the constitution’s bar on reducing promised pension benefits.

Just last month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, took his plan for generating more revenue through a progressive income tax to voters. It required a constitutional amendment because the 1970 charter requires taxes on income be at the same flat rate. Its spectacular defeat underscored one of the major problems with finding solutions to state troubles: hyper-partisanship, sometimes veering into the exaggerated and untrue.

That atmosphere of political vituperation falls in sharp contrast to the confluence of events in 1968: Republican Gov. Richard Ogilvie wanted an income tax for a much-needed boost in revenue. Democratic Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley wanted home rule authority. People on both sides of the spectrum agreed the century-old document hindered progress.

To Pat Quinn, the dissonance is a reason to open a Con-Con. The Democratic governor from 2009 to 2015 has spent a good part of his career out of office orchestrating campaigns for constitutional amendments to enact term limits, independently drawn legislative district maps and his personal favorite, direct citizen initiative.

"There would be interest groups that say, over their cold dead body, no, we can’t do this, but I don’t think voters look at it that way," Quinn said. "They would see this as a fresh look by people who aren’t burdened by having to be reelected. You weren’t reelected as a Con-Con delegate. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Quinn has made the most of the current charter. He burnished his reputation by leading the campaign for the constitution’s lone citizen-driven amendment, in which the size of the House of Representatives was cut by one-third in 1980, fueled by anger over a legislative pay raise. He jumped into the fray, advocating for a Con-Con in 1988, the first time the question went on the ballot because of a requirement that voters be asked whether to convene a new convention at least every 20 years.

Ann Lousin, fresh from law school in 1968 when she served as a research assistant at Con-Con, believes it would take a unique political alignment similar to that of the late 1960s to generate interest for a Con-Con.

"We don’t need a new Con-Con, it would be doomed to failure, the public would never adopt the call," said Lousin, who has written extensively on the constitution during 45 years as a professor at John Marshall Law School in Chicago.

First, the current document is sound and whatever ails the state can be remedied legislatively, she said. Second, she said, lack of consensus leads to people talking past each other.

"I saw what happened in 2008," Lousin said, referring to the last 20-year discussion over a new convention. "The people who wanted a Con-Con were so divided as to why. The libertarians wanted it to restrict government and the progressives wanted it to provide more services."

And like closing the barn door after the horse is out, once delegates are seated, there’s no reining them in, said Wheeler, the reporter who is now professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Springfield.

"The fear is that the things that are in there that are good might be taken out by a convention, because you really can’t limit a convention," Wheeler said. "You might want to say, ‘Well, we only want the convention to look at the pension provision clause.’ But I think the convention is an autonomous operation. Once they’re sworn in, they can do whatever they want."

The 24 most unique town names in Illinois

Unusual town names in Illinois

We’ve got nothing but love for odd town names, because we are the home of Normal, after all. Some of these names are silly, others are simple, and all of them have pun potential.



Goofy Ridge

Let’s start with the town that actually has humor in its name. According to Wikipedia, the area was originally called "The Ridge," a camp near the river bank. After some serious drinking one night, a local game warden said he wasn’t too drunk to shoot a walnut off the head of a volunteer. Naturally, someone was drunk enough to volunteer. The game warden placed the tiny target on the volunteer’s head, aimed his .22 rifle, and shot the nut right off. This caper was called by a witness “one damned goofy thing to do,” and the camp was ever after known as Goofy Ridge. (Wikipedia)



Normal

Normal was laid out with the name North Bloomington on June 7, 1854 by Joseph Parkinson. The town was renamed to Normal in February 1865 and officially incorporated on February 25, 1867. The name was taken from Illinois State Normal University—called a "normal school," as it was a teacher-training institution. It has since been renamed Illinois State University after becoming a general four-year university. (Wikipedia)



Birds

Birds is an unincorporated community in Lawrence County. According to Wikipedia, a Birds resident named Bob Rose became the "most distinguished Reggie Redbird mascot at Illinois State University in 1978." Rose is quoted as saying, "As a boy growing up in Birds, I always dreamed of being the most famous of all Illinois birds, the Redbird. I remember feeling very homesick when I arrived at Illinois State. But, the first time I became Reggie, I felt I could take my Birds nest anywhere and feel at home. I thank Birds for inspiring me to take on the challenge of being Reggie and for allowing me to spread my wings and fly." (Wikipedia)



Oblong

Oblong is a village in Crawford County. Incorporated in 1883, the village was originally a crossroads; when the village decided to incorporate, it was named after a rectangular prairie on the outskirts of the community. (Wikipedia)



Beardstown

Beardstown is a city in Cass County. The population was 6,123 at the 2010 census.

Beardstown was first settled by Thomas Beard in 1819; he erected a log cabin at the edge of the Illinois River, from which he traded with the local Native Americans and ran a ferry. The town was laid out in 1827 and was incorporated as a city in 1896.

The town is also the site of famous Lincoln/Douglas debate at the Beardstown Courthouse. A Lincoln Museum is on the second floor of the courthouse along with many Native American relics. (Wikipedia)



Muddy

Muddy is a small incorporated village located in the Harrisburg Township in Saline County. It was built as a coal mining village to house miners working in O’gara #12 mine located on the north bank of the Saline River. Until 2002, it held the smallest post office in the United States. (Wikipedia)



Sandwich

Sandwich is a city in DeKalb, Kendall, and LaSalle counties. Politician "Long John" Wentworth named it after his home of Sandwich, New Hampshire.

Sandwich is the home of the Sandwich Fair, which first started as an annual livestock show in DeKalb County. Held yearly, the Wednesday–Sunday after Labor Day since 1888, it is one of the oldest continuing county fairs in the state of Illinois, drawing daily crowds of more than 100,000, with the top attendance days reaching more than 200,000 fair-goers. (Wikipedia)

Other Illinois towns with unique nouns for names: Bath, Diamond, Energy, Equality, Flora, Justice, Liberty, Magnolia, and Pearl.



Ransom

Ransom is a village in LaSalle County. It was a planned community; ads were placed in the Streator Monitor as early as 1876 calling for shopkeepers, craftsmen, and tradesmen to locate and set up shop in the area. In 1885, the village of Ransom was officially incorporated. The village was named for American Civil War General Thomas E.G. Ransom, who was born in Vermont but lived as a young man in Illinois. (Wikipedia)



Standard

Standard is a village in Putnam County. The population was 220 at the 2010 census.

Normal is another Illinois town with a rather average name.



Cairo

Cairo is the southernmost city in Illinois. Generally pronounced care-o by natives and kay-ro by others, it’s located at the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers—this part of Illinois is known as Little Egypt. (Wikipedia)

Other Illinois towns with international names include Athens, Belgium, Canton, Columbia, Crete, Havana, Palestine, Panama, Paris, Peru, Rome, and Venice.

And there are plenty of other U.S. towns named Cairo—they’re located in Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, and West Virginia.



Wyoming

Wyoming is a city in Stark County. It was founded on May 3, 1836 by General Samuel Thomas, a veteran of the War of 1812. He and many of the other early settlers came from the state of Pennsylvania. It is for the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania that the city is named. (Wikipedia)

Other Illinois towns that share names with U.S. states include Kansas, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Virginia.



Golf

Golf is a village in Cook County. The community is primarily residential, and has a dedicated police department, post office, and Metra train stop; it has a total area of 0.45 square miles. (Wikipedia)

Aside from Golf, there is also a town named Polo in Illinois—that makes two towns that share names with sports. Golf and Polo are also Volkswagen vehicle models. Two other Illinois towns that share names with auto makers are Plymouth and Pontiac.



Boody

Boody is an unincorporated census-designated place in Macon County. As of the 2010 census, it has a population of 276.



Mechanicsburg

Mechanicsburg is a village in Sangamon County. The population was 456 at the 2000 census. (Wikipedia)

There are a few other Illinois towns that share their names with occupations, including Farmer City, Mason City, Piper City, Prophetstown, and Carpentersville.



Hometown

Hometown is a city in Cook County. It was developed after World War II, targeting former GIs and their families. It borders the city of Chicago along 87th Street between Cicero Avenue and Pulaski Road.



Time

Time is a village in Pike County. The population was 29 at the 2000 census.



Royal

Royal is a village in Champaign County. The population was 293 at the 2010 census.



Benld

Benld is a city in Macoupin County. Founded in 1903, the name derives from founder Benjamin L. Dorsey. Dorsey was responsible for gaining the land on which the town was built and coal mining rights. When it came time to name the village, he took the combination of his first name and his middle and last initial.

On September 29, 1938, a meteorite landed in Benld, marking only the third meteorite landing in Illinois since records were kept. The meteorite was also one of the few known meteorites to strike a man-made object, punching a hole in the roof of a man’s garage and embedding itself in the seat of his 1928 Pontiac Coupe. A neighbor was standing about 50 feet from the impact and may be the individual who came closest to being struck by a meteorite in history up to that time. The meteorite and portions of the car are now on display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. (Wikipedia)



Bone Gap

Bone Gap is a village in Edwards County. French trappers knew this area before it was permanently settled. They referred to it as "Bon Pas," which translates to "good step." Kentuckians modified the name to "Bone Pass," as though it were a "pass" through a mountain range. This was then changed to "Bone Gap."

An alternative story about the origin of Bone Gap’s name involves a small band of Piankashaw Indians who established a village in a gap in the trees a short distance east of present day Bone Gap. Several years later early American settlers found a pile of bones discarded by the Indians near their encampment-hence the name Bone Gap as given to the white man’s village established about the 1830s. (Wikipedia)



Equality

Equality is a village in Gallatin County. The population was 721 at the 2000 census.



Industry

Industry is a village in McDonough County. As of the 2000 census, the village population was 540.



Joy

Joy is a village in Mercer County. The population was 373 at the 2000 census.



Mineral

Mineral is a village in Bureau County. The population was 237 at the 2010 census, down from 272 people in 2000.

The area in which Mineral is located was first settled in the early 1830s. The land just south of the current village was found to be ripe with coal, hence the town’s name. (Wikipedia)



Lost Nation

Lost Nation is an unincorporated census-designated place in Ogle County. It’s located south of the city of Oregon. As of the 2010 census, its population was 708.

There is another Lost Nation located in Iowa, 95 miles due west.



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December 13, 2020 at 01:26PM

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