By Scott Reeder -
SPRINGFIELD – A Champaign TV station has folks here stirred up because it caught two lawmakers playing videogames on their phones while an important budget bill was being debated in the House.
The two lawmakers caught on tape – Kate Cloonen and Mike Smiddy — were quite chagrined.
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. What they did is commonplace in the Illinois House. They were just unlucky enough to do it when someone was paying attention. In fact, it’s so common for lawmakers to loaf during debates, that reporters who routinely cover the General Assembly have ceased reporting it. But it makes it no less pathetic.
I began covering the General Assembly in 1988. Since then, I’ve seen lawmakers stumbling drunk on the floor. I’ve seen others sleep and others hungover. Newspapers and magazines are read and speeches ignored.
A former Senator from western Illinois loved to buy artwork on ebay.com during debates. Two Republican budget “experts” liked to play Risk on their taxpayer-owned computers while legislation was pondered.
But most lawmakers mill around and chat with colleagues while speeches are being delivered.
I remember the first time I saw the Illinois House in “action.” I was a graduate student taken there by my professor, Bill Miller, who himself was a veteran statehouse reporter.
After observing a day of debate, Miller asked my classmates and me our impression of the Illinois House of Representatives. Our class responded in unison: “chaos.” Miller laughed and said that’s what everyone says.
For a long time, that’s how I thought all state legislatures behaved. Then I spent three months covering the Nevada Legislature. Even though lawmakers receive less than one-tenth the pay of their counterparts in Illinois, they manage to be quiet and respectful during speeches, avoid throwing food and are generally considerate of their colleagues.
It would seem a pretty low bar for Illinois lawmakers to reach. But I’ve seen popcorn fights, a box of Kleenex thrown at the Speaker of the House, shoes being shined and a whole host of activities no other workplace would tolerate.
In fact, I found it rather ironic when a lawmaker known for his in-session temper tantrums bemoaned the breech of decorum when another representative extended his middle finger to the chamber.
While both Smiddy and Clooney are Democrats, the behavior is bi-partisan. In fact, to the casual observer it would appear to be a parliament of goofballs.
But that’s not quite fair. There are many lawmakers who care. They want to serve but are trapped in a system that offers not a shred of solemnity to the process.
They deserve better and so do the people of Illinois.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and can be reached at [email protected].
My take: There are 177 state legislators, far too many. They pass way too many laws which are mostly unfunded or raises taxes or increase regulations that hurt businesses and residents. Last year they made pumpkin pie the official pie of Illinois. They have banned the sale shark fin and recommended padlocks of bottles of medicine.,
They won’t fix or eliminate givernment pensions which is crippling the state. Each legislator has a field office in their district which costs millions. I would close those tomorrow saving millions, they can work out if STARBUCKS, their car or their home office like the rest of us.
I would cut the 177 in half, eliminate their staff, limit meetings, limited unnecessary legislation, eliminate their pensions, and that’s just a start.
There are 43,000 elected officials in Illinois, the most of the 50 states. The Illinois legislature is a prime example of a bloated wasteful givernment body.