By Lou LangMay 12, 2013
It’s about time that the Chicago Tribune’s editorial board stop treating the Illinois Constitution like yesterday’s newspaper.
For years the editorial page has loudly bellowed for and against Illinois pension proposals and petulantly insulted and denigrated lawmakers who dare to defy the editorial page’s blithe disregard for the state Constitution.
The latest example was a May 6 editorial’s shrill assault on 53 members of the Illinois House of Representatives who voted against a pension reform proposal sponsored by House Speaker Michael Madigan, charging that by exercising their function of office to vote “no” on a bill, they are “The do-nothing caucus.”
Unlike members of the Tribune editorial board, each member of the Illinois General Assembly swears an oath to uphold the Constitution of Illinois. That solemn obligation demands responsible behavior on the part of lawmakers when it comes to drafting and voting on legislation.
As a lawyer and a 25-year veteran of the Illinois House, I have had more than a few occasions to draft laws and vote on bills, and the first question that gets raised on any piece of legislation is: Is it constitutional?
There are more than a few lawyers in the legislature. And it may surprise you, but lawyers do occasionally disagree. There has been intense and endless debate and discussion among lawyer-lawmakers and lawmakers who are not lawyers in legislative caucuses, town halls, committee hearings, floor debate and private meetings with constituents on pension reform policy.
At the heart of these public and private debates — unlike, apparently, in the Tribune editorial boardroom — has been the constitutionality of any given policy proposal. Lawmakers, at least, have worked to understand the financial, human and constitutional impact of each proposal. We must. It’s our job. It’s our constitutional obligation.
To assert that lawmakers who voted against Senate Bill 1 are part of a “do-nothing caucus” is as outrageous as it is ignorant of the constitutional dimension of the legislation, and ignorant of lawmakers’ mandate to consider the Illinois Constitution when voting on legislation. Some would consider the plain words of our Constitution at least as important as our critical need to reform Illinois’ pension system.
The assertion that lawmakers who chose to vote “no” on the Madigan bill have somehow avoided their duty or have inserted themselves into the pockets of organized labor is slanderous and insulting to the integrity of 53 members of the House who believe we need a pension bill that is fair, credible and constitutional. We may have wide disagreement on these issues, but that hardly rises to the level of “do nothing.”
While the Tribune editorial board may elect to write nonsense while ignoring the Illinois Constitution and to insult the integrity of legislators, lawmakers are elected to do the hard work of voting for bills they consider constitutionally worthy.
Unless the Tribune reverts to its rich tradition of responsible, respectful and thoughtful journalism, its influence on Illinois public policy will continue to erode further and its opinions will be as useful as yesterday’s news.
Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, is deputy majority leader of the Illinois House.