County board backs proposed constitutional amendment

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EFFINGHAM, Ill. (WCIA) — The Effingham County Board is backing a proposed amendment to the state constitution aimed at preventing a party “supermajority” in the legislature.

In a largely symbolic gesture, board members Monday afternoon voted in favor of supporting chairman Jim Niemann’s initiative, which came as a result, he said, of his personal study of the state’s 1970s-era constitution.  

Back then, legislative districts provided three representatives per district, and had a rule that no more than two of them could represent one political party — which is what Niemann’s proposal would recreate. 

“What we’ve got now is a majority-rule,” Niemann said. 

Currently, one representative is allocated per legislative subdistrict — a change that came after a 1982 amendment to the state’s constitution. 

The resolution board members approved said that change allowed the state to continue “ignoring the opinions of regional minority groups,” as well as “…one party domination, and lack of opposition leading to the socioeconomic distresses the State of Illinois currently suffers.” 

“I think our main goal, really, is to get both sides of the aisle talking together… I think it would really go a long way in trying to get a new, level playing field where both sides get to sit down,” board member Dave Campbell said. “Right now, it’s so one-sided that there’s no way you can get anything done in the state of Illinois.” 

Although Effingham’s County Board can’t change the state’s constitution, Campbell said members believe someone needs to take a stand. 

“No one else is really taking this on, so we thought we could take a stab at it,” he said. “Somebody has got to do something — that’s why we’re ready to take a stand on this.” 

With the board’s approval of the resolution, Niemann’s goal now is to solicit at least 500,000 signatures on a petition to put the proposed amendment on the 2020 ballot. 

“That seems like an awful lot,” he said. “What we’re going to do is circulate this to other counties and hopefully we can get it circulated (widely).”

Niemann said he sees his proposal as an alternative to talks of downstate secession from Cook County. Such talks have garnered support from downstate Illinoisans, with Representative Brad Halbrook (R-Shelbyville) among the supporters.  

“There is a separation movement going on and a lot of that feeds from feeling that downstate isn’t properly represented in Springfield,” Niemann said. “It’s a complicated, long process if it would ever happen. It has a ton of questions — how do we deal with the debt and the constitution and property — so I would rather Illinois stay Illinois if we at all can, and addresses the question of not being represented fairly. I think if we can give people a more viable alternative to separation, we have a better than average chance of getting this on the ballot.”

Even if the resolution does make the state’s 2020 ballot, that doesn’t necessarily mean the amendment will gain any legal traction, John Jackson, a professor of political science at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University — Carbondale.  

Jackson said the proposal could end up being “symbolic politics,” which are “important but they’re not going anywhere, realistically.”

“It’s part of letting off steam,” he said. 

Regardless, Niemann said that after a week of the idea being out in the open, he hasn’t experienced significant opposition to the idea. 

“I think both parties will support it for different reasons,” he said. “I think downstate Dems will support it and I’m hopeful that Republicans in the metro area can grab ahold of it.”  

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