Paul Jacob

I was born in Chicago. The year was 1960, and I no doubt voted for John F. Kennedy for president.

When I worked in Illinois thirty years later, the political process was often explained to me as a contest over which set of county officials — Democratic Cook or Republican DuPage — could stay up the latest on election night to manufacture the greater number of votes.

Such is the reputation of Chicago and Illinois. Corruption remains an integral part of the political culture.

Today, the state’s previous governor has retired to a prison cell. The current governor is the target of an ongoing criminal probe. State government — though controlled wholly by the Democrats — is wholly gridlocked.

Worse yet, as a report by the Commercial Club of Chicago bluntly puts it: “Illinois is headed toward financial implosion.”

This is the environment from which Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy springs. He’s worked in Chicago politics and served in the state legislature down in Springfield. That doesn’t make Obama corrupt. Guilt doesn’t spread from one person to another by mere association.

But his experience does tell us that when Senator Obama talks about the need for change, he ought to know what he’s talking about.

Further, agree or not with Obama’s precise prescriptions for change, it is clear to the overwhelming majority of Americans that change is needed in Washington. Such change is also obviously — and just as desperately — needed in Illinois.

Toward this end, a question that will appear on the state’s ballot this November asks voters whether a constitutional convention should be called to make fundamental changes in the way politics and governance are done. This question is automatically placed before voters every 20 years. In 1988, voters said no. This year, polls show two-to-one voter support, but with a large percentage of undecided voters.

Citizen leaders from across the political spectrum — and the rare politician like Democratic Lt. Governor Patrick Quinn — favor a constitutional convention. This support appears to be based not on ideological hankerings, but on the obvious fact that Ol’ Honest Abe Lincoln wouldn’t recognize today’s Land of Lincoln.

In addition, there’s a near-universal belief that all hope for reform lies with the people and not their pretend representatives in Springfield.

Paul Jacob

Paul Jacob is President of Citizens in Charge Foundation and Citizens in Charge. His daily Common Sense commentary appears on the Web and via e-mail.