Worst opinion piece of the week: Defending democracy requires keeping our 8,466 units of government
By: Mark Glennon*
The Founders would surely be proud to know how long democracy has survived, but this would no doubt make them shit. (Even Ben Franklin used that word sometimes so don’t get upset.)
Efforts to consolidate Illinois’ ridiculously high number of governmental units, 8,466, are now making some folks nervous.
The nervous ones are those who control most of those units because they provide armies of loyal campaign workers and contributors dependent on their political bosses for their paychecks.
But how will they justify opposing the consolidation that’s so obviously needed? A leading Democratic strategist tipped off their case this week. Are you ready? Here it is: Consolidation “disguises an attack” on democracy.
That’s the argument made by longtime Illinois Democratic communications guru and former staffer for Mike Madigan and Richard Daley, David Ormsby, in his article on Tuesday. The “hidden cost” of consolidation, Mr. Ormsby says, “is less democracy, less granular democracy.” And less democracy lengthens the distance between the people and their leadership, Mr. Ormsby says. What suffers as a result? Accountability, he tells us.
To preserve Illinois as the shining city on a hill that it is, a citadel of principled democracy and accountability, we need to keep those 8,466 taxing bodies. We should be proud to have democracy and accountability superior to the other 49 states thanks to having more units of government than any of them, apparently.
It’s not just that that Mr. Ormsby is dead wrong, though he is. Layers of government in Illinois are so deep that most voters in Illinois can’t come close to naming who does what or identify where their grievances are. Why is your property tax bill so high — which of all those jurisdictions on it are the problem? Who knows? And more units mean more accountability? How has that worked out for the 650-plus public pensions that have bankrupted the state and so many municipalities, each with its own board of trustees, actuary, assumptions, and financial reporting, all intertwined with complex mandates from the state?
No, it’s that consolidation opponents in the political machine that control Springfield would wrap their case in the flag of democracy. None of the Founders would have imagined a state with this many taxing bodies. Moreover, they didn’t believe in much direct democracy at all, preferring instead a republic with indirect democracy. Most importantly, their primary concern in how they structured government was abuse of power by people who accumulate too much of it, maybe like the guy for whom Ormsby is effectively serving as mouthpiece — de facto governor Michael Madigan, or his other former boss, Richard M. Daley.
Let’s hope Illinois has the right conception of democracy.
*Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints