CHICAGO – Measures that would allow Illinois voters to decide on lawmaker term limits and a new political redistricting process can't appear on November's ballot, a judge ruled Friday, in a decision that could be a setback for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner.
Cook County Circuit Court Judge Mary Mikva decided the measures didn't meet constitutional requirements and ruled them invalid. Attorneys for the term limits group vowed to appeal, while the redistricting group announced they'd scrap efforts for 2014.
Rauner, who's trying to unseat Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn in what is one of the most competitive governor's races nationwide, has made term limits a campaign cornerstone. In addition to railing against "career politicians," his campaign sees the measure as a way to inspire supporters to vote.
But his group and another supporting changes to redistricting have said the court case, and a separate signature verification process by election officials, has been laced with politics in heavily-Democratic Cook County. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of business and community groups, but argued by well-known elections attorney Michael Kasper who's represented top Democrats, including House Speaker Michael Madigan. An opponent of term limits, Madigan is the longest serving House speaker nationwide at nearly three decades.
"We always knew that the protectors of the failed status quo would fight this in court and that it would go to the (Illinois) Supreme Court," Rauner said in a statement. "Illinoisans by the hundreds of thousands have spoken out in favor of shaking up Springfield with term limits, and the will of the people should not and ultimately, will not be denied."
Democrats have dismissed the allegations, including Quinn. The Chicago Democrat led a petition drive for a term limits ballot initiative in 1994, but it was struck down by the Illinois Supreme Court. He didn't support the Rauner efforts because the measure also increased the size of the Illinois House. Quinn was also instrumental in the only other voter-backed initiative to make it to the Illinois ballot while a political activist. The 1980 so-called "cutback amendment" shrunk the size of the House and how residents elect legislators.
The legal fight over the ballot initiatives has featured several high-profile Illinois political figures and lawyers with wide connections.
The judge is the daughter of former federal judge and former Democratic congressman Abner Mikva. Lawyer Lori Lightfoot, once a finalist to head the U.S. attorney's office in Chicago, was on a legal team arguing against the lawsuit. Judge Mikva disclosed in court that she was linked to people on both sides of the case, including that Kasper represented her during her election. Neither side objected to her presiding in the case.
Attorneys said they'd have difficulty finding a Cook County courtroom without such connections.
Quinn's campaign blasted Rauner's effort.
"During that (Quinn's) petition drive, Bruce Rauner was nowhere to be found. Now, 20 years later, he turns up with a poorly drafted, election-year proposal. Rauner has nobody but himself to blame for harming the term limits cause," a campaign statement said.
Mikva had to decide if the proposed questions made "structural" and "procedural" changes to the Legislature. The lawsuit said that the measures didn't meet those constitutional requirements, would change rules for seeking office, and would affect the governor's powers.
In her ruling, Mikva reasoned that all parts of the term limits initiative – which also makes it harder to override a governor's veto – weren't related. She added that provisions of the mapmaking initiative were outside of constitutional requirements.
Attorneys for Rauner's group, the Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, had argued the measure met requirements. As did the other group, Yes for Independent Maps.
That group faced other problems. The Illinois State Board of Elections said an initial sampling found numerous signatures from that group to be invalid. Supporters of independent redistricting had been trying to rehabilitate them. They announced Friday afternoon that they'd try again in the future.
"This experience will make us better prepared to win the next campaign to give voters an opportunity to have a voice in the redistricting process," the group's chairwoman Deborah Harrington said in a statement.
Mark Campbell, spokesman for the term limits effort, said they hoped to file an appeal next week allowing them to go directly to the Illinois Supreme Court.
Kasper didn't return a message Friday.
The November ballot could still be hefty. Even without the two signature-driven measures, five others spearheaded by Democrats through legislation could appear, including non-binding questions on raising the minimum wage.