Lawmakers get their diversion
Herald-News editorial August 17, 2012 11:10PM
Updated: September 20, 2012 10:17AM
Illinois lawmakers right now probably are thanking their lucky stars for former state Rep. Derrick Smith, whom they booted from the Legislature in historic fashion Friday.
Not that he didn’t have it coming — he very much did — but it’s always nice to have a punching bag around when you need a distraction. In this case, that larger issue would be the state’s financial solvency, which is threatening collapse under the weight of an $83 billion pension burden.
Perhaps the gentleman from Evanston, Democratic Rep. Daniel Bliss, said it best: “We all look like idiots.”
As expected, Illinois lawmakers held a one-day special session on Friday and left town no closer to a pension fix than when they started. A House proposal brought by state Rep. Jack Franks, a Marengo Democrat, would have trimmed retirement benefits for current lawmakers and eliminated pensions entirely for new state officials. But the idea of limiting their own benefits didn’t muster enough votes to clear the House.
While it’s admirable he at least tried, Gov. Pat Quinn should have waited for consensus on a pension fix before calling a special session. That would have spared everyone the charade.
Still, House lawmakers gave themselves at least one chest-thumping accomplishment, overwhelmingly voting to eject Smith, who allegedly accepted a $7,000 cash bribe from an undercover FBI informant last spring. One hundred lawmakers cast a “yes” vote for that.
Smith didn’t show up for his own legislative execution, but he later said his former colleagues rushed to judgment. Unbelievably, Smith’s still trying to regain the seat in November.
Tossing Smith was the right move. But it also served as a diversion to the shirking of a larger duty — fixing the pension mess.
Rep. Lou Lang, a Skokie Democrat, said of Smith’s ejection: “The best way to show the people of Illinois, the best way to show the people of this country, that people in public life will not put up with other people in public life who cross the line and who don’t seem to care is to make a statement today. It’s not just a statement about Rep. Smith. It’s a statement about us.”
So is inaction.