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posted: 11/26/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: The fundamental problems of holding dual offices

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  • Democrat Terry Link, 30th District state senator

      Democrat Terry Link, 30th District state senator

 

Although we have differences with some of state Sen. Terry Link's positions, we decided that his background and leadership merited our endorsement in the election just passed. He won. But if the next few months play out as he appears to hope and if he runs again in 2014, we can pretty much say already that we won't be supporting him.

How can we know this, two years away from his next opportunity to run for Senate?

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Simple. Link announced last week that, while continuing to serve as 30th District state senator, he wants to be elected mayor of Waukegan. If he's elected, we'll invoke one of the few hard-and-fast rules we apply to our endorsement process, an issue that is central to our notion of fair, diverse representative government: the refusal to support dual office holders.

Our resistance to that possibility is nothing against Link himself nor a response to anything he has said or done. It's a fundamental aspect of our vision of government. Above almost all else, political leadership must be free of both the reality and the appearance of conflict of interest, and it must, as many Founding Fathers would surely concur, not occasion such a consolidation of power that any single individual can expand his or her influence across multiple, diverse agencies or dilute the participation of a broad cross section of individuals.

Link, who is far from the only local or state politician with similar dual ambitions, describes his state Senate responsibilities as "a part-time job in every regard" and sees no conflict between the duties of a mayor and a state senator. Mundelein state Rep. Ed Sullivan Jr. feels similarly about his dual role as township assessor. Likewise Burr Ridge Mayor Gary Grasso, who just won a seat on the DuPage County Board.

We could not disagree more. In everything from divvying up local road-construction dollars to the notion of -- whether you consider them legitimate or not -- unfunded state mandates, the interests of state and local governments intersect in myriad ways. Even such diverse public functions as those of, say, a township road commissioner and a school board member can be fraught with competing interests involving personnel, contracts and the competition for portions of the public's money. It doesn't take much to see how a single individual exerting sway over varied functions could begin to assume disproportionate influence over how that competition turns out, and it similarly doesn't take much imagination to see how such power can squeeze out others who can and ought to add to the variety of voices helping to determine the direction of government.

And all this is without considering the objectionable possibilities for dual officeholders to build up multiple public pensions.

It is worth noting that citizens seem to agree with us on this. In three separate referendums just this month in Elmhurst, DuPage County and McHenry County, voters resoundingly opposed the idea of dual office holding -- on votes as high as 90 percent.

Matters of public will and political philosophy notwithstanding, some candidates clearly summon enough support to get elected to more than one office. Grasso did it in DuPage County Nov. 6. Link may do it next spring. But it is bad policy, and we have to wonder whether, and hope, all those voters who say they hate dual offices will stand up for the principle when the issue applies to a particular candidate.

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