Following an admitted misstep, BILL CLUTTER might back off his plan to get a proposed open-primary constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot.

Following an admitted misstep, BILL CLUTTER might back off his plan to get a proposed open-primary constitutional amendment on the November 2012 ballot.

“We all make mistakes,” Clutter told me late last week.

Clutter made a pretty good splash when he announced his initial petition drive on Sept. 7. CYNTHIA BARD RUTAN of Springfield, namesake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1990 anti-patronage decision, was the first person to sign the open-primary petition, as video and still cameras documented the occasion for possible use in Clutter’s campaign for the Illinois Senate in the new 48th District.

But then Clutter replaced the simple open-primary amendment with a more complicated one on a website, illinoisopenprimary.com, set up to push the referendum. Confusion ensued, and now, he says, he’s not sure he’ll even be seeking the nearly 300,000 signatures needed to put any proposed amendment before the voters. But he hasn’t pulled the plug just yet.

Clutter also doesn’t want people distributing the petitions that can now be downloaded on that site, because he said he’s “not wedded” to the idea he has now put forward there.

It was still there last week, he said, because “the person that administers the website is on vacation.”

What happened is that, shortly after announcing his push for open primaries in legislative elections, Clutter, an investigator by trade, came across a state Supreme Court case that he thinks would render that proposal unconstitutional.

The way the 1970 constitution reads, he says, an amendment has to make “structural and procedural” changes to the legislative article. He thinks he could have gotten by with his simple change if it said “structural or procedural,” but it doesn’t.

So he crafted new language, which I examined after a story about this ran in Illinois Times.
If I may be so bold, the idea is somewhat bizarre. Not only would it pair an open primary for legislators (where primary voters wouldn’t have to disclose their party preference) with a return to cumulative voting, but there would be a twist. Instead of the pre-1982 cumulative system, where three House members and one Senate member were elected from each of 59 districts, the new Clutter language would have each party’s primary voters choose two nominees in each of the 59 districts; in the general election, the top vote-getter would go to the Senate and the second- and third-place finishers would end up in the House.

Terms would be two years for all legislators. Now, some senators serve four-year terms. The problem with that idea, Clutter says, is that he’s also found a court case that makes it appear the term-limit imposition can’t be done by initiative. It was deemed to deal with someone’s eligibility to be a lawmaker, not legislative procedure.

“What I’ve learned from this is it’s very hard in Illinois to implement reform, and particularly through citizens’ petition,” Clutter said.

His plan of action now might just be to try for election to the Senate, then seek to have lawmakers put a constitutional amendment on the ballot to change that “and” to “or.”

 My guess is nobody is happier about all these developments than ANDY MANAR of Bunker Hill — the chief of staff to Senate President JOHN CULLERTON, D-Chicago, and Macoupin County Board chairman — who is running against Clutter for the Democratic Senate nomination in the 48th.

But, as they say, it’s early.

Dirksen admirer
U.S. Sen. MARK KIRK, R-Ill., who calls himself a pragmatic moderate, this week unveiled a portrait of the late U.S. Sen. EVERETT DIRKSEN, R-Ill., in his Washington, D.C. office. It’s in a prominent location for the public to see in Kirk’s space in the Hart Office Building.

“Senator Dirksen was a social moderate, fiscal conservative and national security hawk who worked for the benefit of Illinois, and it is my hope that this portrait in the junior senator’s office will be a reminder of that legacy,” Kirk, of Highland Park, said in a news release.

Dirksen, of Pekin, served in both the House and Senate and rose to be Senate minority leader. He had a big role in passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

GOP U.S. Reps. AARON SCHOCK of Peoria and BOBBY SCHILLING of Colona were also at the unveiling, as was Senate historian DONALD RITCHIE. Schock said Dirksen was famous for keeping in touch through “weekly video chats,” while Schilling said the portrait should stand as “a constant reminder of the importance of bipartisanship and fiscal responsibility.”

Ritchie was quoted as saying Dirksen was “an artful leader who could craft legislative compromises without compromising his principles.”

The portrait is a copy of one done by artist RICHARD HARRYMAN. He finished it in 1969, shortly before Dirksen’s death.

Dirksen’s tousled hair is great for art — including a witty CARL TOLPO statue on the southeast lawn of the Statehouse, where the senator is shown as the great orator he was, surrounded by his beloved marigolds, but also by a little donkey and elephant with fingers crossed, and an oil can — all helping mark his dealmaking ability.

Bernard Schoenburg is political columnist for The State Journal-Register. He can be reached at 788-1540 or bernard.schoenburg@sj-r.com.