SPRINGFIELD | Republican Bruce Rauner opened up a new line of attack Wednesday in his bid to topple Gov. Pat Quinn in November, saying term limits could end the "culture of corruption" in Illinois.
At a news conference in a warehouse south of the Capitol, the wealthy Winnetka businessman stood before a custom-made box holding more than 591,000 signatures collected in support of putting a question on the November ballot asking whether lawmakers' terms should be limited.
The Committee for Legislative Reform and Term Limits, a group chaired by Rauner, submitted the petitions to the Illinois State Board of Elections four days before a Sunday deadline to get the question on the ballot.
While the voter initiative wouldn't affect the terms of statewide officeholders like Quinn, Rauner said limiting members of the General Assembly to eight years in office would trigger a "dramatic shift" in the way things work in Springfield.
Besides limiting terms, the proposed amendment also would raise the threshold to override a gubernatorial veto and change the number of state House and Senate districts.
“All these reforms, especially term limits, will go a long way toward changing the insider culture of Springfield and send a message that power belongs in the hands of the people, not the career politicians and special interests,” Rauner said.
In announcing the filing of the petitions, Rauner focused his attack on Quinn, who is suddenly enmeshed in two potential scandals.
Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez has subpoenaed records related to the troubled Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, an anti-violence program in Chicago created in the months before the 2010 election.
Republicans call the initiative a "political slush fund" meant to supply Quinn with precinct walkers during his run for governor in 2010. A scathing report issued by Auditor General Bill Holland found "pervasive" problems in how taxpayer dollars were spent.
News of the investigation came a week after a lawsuit was filed against the administration for alleged widespread political hiring practices at the Illinois Department of Transportation.
"He's clearly part of this culture of corruption," Rauner said of Quinn.
At a separate event, Quinn defended his handling of the anti-violence program, saying he took steps to fix it when questions were raised.
"We abolished the program. We abolished the agency," Quinn said.
He also said he's taken the right steps to deal with other problems in his administration.
"If anything isn't going in the right direction, the important thing is to identify the problem, hold departments accountable and make sure we act swiftly to squarely address the problem. That's what I've done my whole life," Quinn said.
While the term limits push had nearly twice the number of signatures needed, it could face a legal challenge on the grounds that the Illinois constitution doesn't allow for the kinds of changes Rauner is advocating.
In a recent report, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University suggested the effort wouldn't survive a Supreme Court review.