Never mind that the Illinois Constitution says that "sessions of each house of the General Assembly and meetings of committees, joint committees and legislative commissions shall be open to the public." Forget for a moment that we citizens pay the salaries of lawmakers and that they work for us. In Illinois, if legislators are intent on having a closed-door meeting, well dadgummit they'll find a way, unconstitutional and just fundamentally wrong though it may be.

Never mind that the Illinois Constitution says that "sessions of each house of the General Assembly and meetings of committees, joint committees and legislative commissions shall be open to the public." Forget for a moment that we citizens pay the salaries of lawmakers and that they work for us. In Illinois, if legislators are intent on having a closed-door meeting, well dadgummit they'll find a way, unconstitutional and just fundamentally wrong though it may be.


So they did on Wednesday, when members of the state Senate locked out the public and got a confidential briefing from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nope, they didn't hear anything about where the CIA thinks Osama bin Laden is hiding. They didn't hear about a "confidential personnel matter," "pending litigation" or any of the myriad excuses small-town bureaucrats use to hold closed sessions. They heard — and prepare to be shocked — a presentation detailing the fact that some states are fighting a losing battle against red ink. Stop the presses!


We promise we didn't bug the meeting, but here's the skinny: Illinois continues to spend more money than it takes in. Our unfunded pension obligations remain the worst in the nation. So much for the vaunted "transparency" in government we've been hearing so much about.


The excuse, according to Senate President John Cullerton — with the full complicity of Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno — is that some senators are running for higher office and wanted to "have a free exchange of ideas without having to be worried about what the press might report." Now think about that: Apparently state government exists in Illinois not to do the public's business in public, but to protect its politicians in private, as if we didn't know.


Look, if a candidate running for statewide office opens his yap and asks something sillier than usual about the state's financial condition, isn't that something voters ought to be aware of? It's when the latter are clueless about such things that we get some of the primary results we just experienced, and that we get the kind of dysfunctional government that, well, Illinois has.


We don't care that senators released a no doubt antiseptic version of what they discussed immediately after the meeting, or that NCSL officials held a news conference. The all-too-clever bypass of the Constitution senators came up with, in which the Senate recessed and Republicans and Democrats held a "joint caucus" — typically they meet separately, but privately — shouldn't be allowed to transpire again. This isn't how the train of democracy is supposed to run.


Peoria Journal Star