Guest Column: There is no 'real' home rule in Illinois

Comments by Rockford Mayor Larry Morrissey and Jay Graham in last week’s Rock River Times remind me of the observation: “An intelligent person knows when the wrong answer has been given to a question. A creative person knows when the wrong question is being asked.”

Both Morrissey and Graham ignore a fundamental fact—that there is no real home rule in Illinois. The Illinois version of so-called home rule strips citizens of power to control their local government. It bypasses the people and puts all the power into the hands of politicians and those who curry their favor.

Rockford voters repealed so-called home rule 22 years ago. They voted to set limits on local government’s power to tax, to regulate, and to incur debt. They forced the politicians to ask voters’ permission to wheel and deal with taxpayers’ money, or to take control of citizens’ lives and livelihoods and property.

Now, Morrissey and Graham and their cohorts are asking, “How can we we take that power away from the people?” The question they should be asking is, “How can we fix home rule so the people can decide what home rule powers they want local government to have and what home rule powers they don’t want local government to have?”

Our nation is founded on the principles that human rights come from the hand of God, not from the state, and that legitimate government derives its powers from the consent of the governed. We establish constitutions to control government and safeguard our rights and liberty. The Illinois version of so-called home rule violates those fundamental principles.

Our nation’s founders gave birth to the United States of America by calling a Constitutional Convention at which the powers of the federal government were defined and restricted, with other powers reserved to the states and the citizens. When each territory became a state, its first act was to hold a constitutional convention at which the powers of the state government were defined and restricted.

Many states assign powers of local government to the citizens by allowing or mandating local citizens to create a home rule constitution or charter in which the citizens define what home rule powers they want local politicians to have and what powers they do not want them to have. The 1970 Illinois Constitution denies citizens that right. We can fix that flaw and have the best of both worlds by amending the Illinois version of so-called home rule to allow citizens to create a home rule constitution or charter.

Thomas Jefferson reminded us, “There are those who fear and distrust the people and wish to draw all powers from them into the hands of the ‘higher classes,’ and there are those who identify themselves with the people, have confidence in them, cherish and consider them the safest and most honest, if not always the wisest repository of the public interest… Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone.”

History has taught us and Americans have always recognized that unrestrained government is a disaster waiting to happen. We realize that we need government to accomplish things we cannot do alone, but we also realize that living with government is like living with a pit bull that has never been fully domesticated. It can be a wonderful pet, but then suddenly turn and bite off the owner’s hand or attack an innocent neighbor or child. We need to keep it on a leash and use a muzzle.

In Illinois, so-called home rule puts the leash and muzzle on the people instead of on the dogs of government. Amending the Illinois version of so-called home rule by allowing citizens to create home rule constitutions or charters will fix that. (This text includes copyrighted excerpts from used with permission.)

John Gile is a local author and publisher.

From the Nov. 2-8, 2005, issue

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