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Recall amendment more harm than good

On the most basic emotional level, what red-blooded American could argue with any reform that makes politics and government more responsive to the will of the people-

We all want to be John Lennon once in a while, thrusting a fist in the air and singing "Power to the people! Power to the people, right on!"

And so it is with some ambivalence -- please don't think of us as King George III telling those pesky colonists to cool it -- that we come out today against a proposed state constitutional amendment that would allow the people of Illinois to sack a governor before his or her term is up. We're all for dumping bad and crooked governors. But that's what elections and impeachment trials are for.

The proposed recall amendment on the Nov. 2 ballot would only encourage our state's next governor to be more timid, effectively ceding more power to the bosses of the General Assembly, at a time when Illinois desperately needs a governor who's unafraid to make bold and unpopular decisions to cut services and raise taxes. A leader who can be pulled around by the nose is no leader at all.

As a practical matter, the proposed recall amendment would create more problems than it solves.

In most cases, a newly elected governor likely would serve a year or two before a consensus emerged that he's a lemon. At which point, according to the amendment, any group interested in recalling Gov. Lemon first would have to show they have support, in an affidavit, from 10 senators and 20 representatives, with no more than half the signatures from one party.

Once the recall group obtained this odd permission slip, it would have five full months to gather signatures equal to at least 15 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Based on the 2006 turnout, that would mean a minimum of 525,000 signatures.

The State Board of Elections then would have 100 days to certify or reject the petition. And only then, within another 100 days, would a special recall election be held, in which a simply majority of the vote would be required to give the boot to Gov. Lemon.

By that time, of course, his or her four-year term would be nearly over.

But it gets worse.

The lieutenant governor would serve as the acting governor, but only until a special election is held within 60 days to pick a permanent replacement, making No. 2 the ultimate lame duck. And you can be sure the only thing on his or her mind would be winning the election. All at an estimated cost, for two stand-alone special elections, of at least $80 million.

Perhaps worst of all, we fear the typical recall movement would be driven by lobbyists, not by true grass-roots outrage.

Consider, for example, the effort to unseat Illinois Supreme Court Justice Thomas Kilbride in the Nov. 2 election, supposedly (if you believe the scurrilous radio ads) because he is soft on criminals. In fact, business groups are behind the anti-Kilbride campaign, offended by his vote to overturn a state law that limited damage awards in medical malpractice cases.

If it seems somewhat elitist to oppose a recall provision, it helps to remember that the Founding Fathers recognized the need to insulate lawmakers to some degree from the passions of the day. U.S. senators, for example, are elected to six-year terms to give them the breathing room necessary to make hard decisions.

When an Illinois governor disappoints us, we're free to kick him out -- every four years.

And if we really can't wait, as we've learned, there's always impeachment.