October 10, 2008

Forum explores need for constitutional convention

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- Southern Illinois University Carbondale will host a public forum next week on whether there is a need to revise or rewrite Illinois’ constitution.

Public policy activists with varying opinions on the issue will gather to discuss, “Is it Time for a Constitutional Convention?” The panel discussions, sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, will begin at 10 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 15, in the Student Center Ballrooms.

Illinois voters will decide on Tuesday, Nov. 4, whether the 1970 Illinois Constitution needs to be reviewed, revised or rewritten through a constitutional convention. State law requires voters to decide every 20 years on whether to call for a constitutional convention. In 1988, voters rejected the proposal by a 3-to-1 vote.

“The institute is delighted to host this program to help voters make a decision on Nov. 4 about an important and controversial question facing the citizens of Illinois,” said institute assistant director Matt Baughman.

Admission is free, but registration is required for meal considerations and seating is limited. To register, contact institute project coordinator Christina Rich at 618/453-4078 or by email at clrich@siu.edu.

The first panel discussion will feature the insights and perspectives of four delegates to the state’s last constitutional convention in 1970 -- Marion Mayor Robert L. Butler, SIUC political science professor emeritus and author David Kenney, Springfield attorney Mary Lee Leahy, and John Alexander, who was convention vice president.

In the afternoon, two leading but opposing voices on the issue, Illinois Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn and former state Rep. Jeff Mays, R-Quincy, offer their opinions.

If voters call for convening a constitutional convention, a separate election chooses delegates. Those delegates then meet to decide on any changes to the state’s constitution. Voters then approve or reject any of the proposed changes.

The program schedule is:

10 a.m. -- Opening remarks, Mike Lawrence, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

10:15 a.m. -- Insights from Delegates to the 1970 Constitutional Convention. The panelists are: John Alexander, convention vice chairman, and former government professor at Western Illinois University and Lincoln Land College; Robert L. Butler, currently serving his 12th term as Marion mayor dating back to 1963; David Kenney, retired SIUC political science professor, director of the Illinois Department of Conservation, 1977-1984, founding director of the Illinois Historic Preservation Agency, and author of several books related to state government; and Mary Lee Leahy, a central Illinois trial and appellate attorney whose practice focuses on civil rights and employment rights cases. Leahy served as chief sponsor of the constitution’s Article XI, the Environmental Rights Article.

Charles N. Wheeler III, director of the public affairs reporting program at the University of Illinois at Springfield, serves as moderator for the panel discussion. A former statehouse reporter for the Chicago Sun-Times, Wheeler covered the 1970 Constitutional Convention. He writes a monthly column for Illinois Issues magazine, and is a 2006 inductee into the Lincoln League of Journalists by the Illinois Associated Press Editors Association.

11:30 a.m. -- Lunch

12:30 p.m. -- Debating the Vote. Panelists are Lt. Gov. Patrick Quinn, a leading advocate for the constitutional convention, and former state Rep. Jeff Mays, R-Quincy, president of the Illinois Business Roundtable, and a convention opponent.

Elected lieutenant governor in 2002, Quinn served as state treasurer from 1991 to 1995. In 1980, he led a statewide campaign for the Cutback Amendment to the state’s constitution, reducing the Illinois House from 177 -- three legislators elected from each of the state’s 59 senatorial districts -- to 118, where one representative is elected from a single district.

Mays served five terms in the Illinois General Assembly. He has served as president of the Illinois Business Roundtable since 1998; prior to that, he was executive vice president of the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce. He also served as special assistant to the Chicago Regional Administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development from 1990 to 1992.

Jennifer Fuller, the morning host on WSIU-FM, will serve as moderator for the afternoon discussion with Quinn and Mays. Fuller covered the legislature for the Illinois Radio Network and WTAX-AM while pursuing a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. She is president of the Illinois Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors, and treasurer of the Illinois News Broadcasters Association.

For more information on the event, contact Matt Baughman, assistant director of the institute, at 618/453-4001, or visit the institute’s Web site at http://www.paulsimoninstitute.siuc.edu/