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posted: 11/25/2012 5:00 AM

Editorial: The politics of circumventing the public

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

A week ago in this space, we warned against the likelihood that lame-duck legislators may take on such controversial issues as gambling and pension reform before the newly elected General Assembly is seated Jan. 9.

"Some issues," we said, "are too important to be decided by lawmakers who make take advantage of a political free pass."

Since then, we've been treated to high-profile news on one day that proponents of gay marriage are lobbying on behalf of a bill that would grant same-sex couples the right to marry in Illinois.

In fact, a representative of a suburban council of Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays has even contacted us to solicit an editorial endorsement of the legislation.

There's nothing unusual about that. Our Editorial Board frequently receives solicitations from organizations looking for support on one issue or another, and in this case we've previously spoken out in favor of gay-marriage legislation so we're certainly sympathetic.

Meanwhile, on another day, a bipartisan group of some of the state's most prominent political leaders held a news conference to call attention to a push to allow undocumented immigrants to seek and obtain driver's licenses.

They said the motive is to make our roads safer, although some might more cynically question whether the embrace by vanquished Republicans was prompted more by a sudden postelection wish to court Hispanic voters.

Whatever the case, let's wait a minute here. In fact, let's wait a month and a half.

We're sympathetic to both of these legislative initiatives.

But we are not sympathetic to the timing.

The subject matter of both of these bills is controversial. They are hot button issues that draw passionate debate.

And we are -- or aspire to be -- a government of the people, by the people.

To shut those people out by passing legislation when its convenient to the politicians, whether the legislation is good or bad, may be practical politics. But it runs counter to republican democracy.

Some may argue that the cause of civil rights or safety on our roads should not be delayed. And we are sensitive to that. We understand that argument.

But ultimately, those causes are undermined if government operates in a way that increases public cynicism -- especially if government operates cynically on behalf of those causes.

Matters of controversy ought to be debated and decided in the light. The public ought to be a partner in those debates, to be led rather than maneuvered.

These proposals have merit. Frankly, we think they'll probably pass in the new General Assembly anyway.

The current General Assembly should do the right thing. Wait.

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