Well, Hannah, did we meet the goal?
Hannah Meisel, who after the general election announcing she was stepping down as an editor with National Public Radio Illinois, wrote an essay in the December 2021 Illinois News Broadcasters Association newsletter encouraging reporters to reconnect politics to governing.
“In 2022, I’m asking all of us to step up in our newsrooms and initiate tough conversations about how to achieve better, more nuanced coverage,” she wrote, “the type that’s actually fair, rather than the cheapened version of fairness we sometimes settle for.”
Campaign issues hang over everything in an election year, especially with the governor and every General Assembly seat on the ballot.
“Ask how candidates plan to deliver for their district [or whatever constituency applies here]. Let’s focus on real, tangible things: Funding for needed projects. Oversight where things have gone wrong. Investing in programs that would actually make a difference for our corner of the state. Or willingness to pull the plug on those that have become expensive fiefdoms that no longer resemble their stated purpose.”
She returned to this point throughout the year on social media, just last month tweeting: “What if political journalism was secondary to reporting on governance, legislating, how agencies and courts interpret/implement/enforce laws ... and the actual business of government?! That would be crazy, huh?”
I agree with her ideas – and await readers to email reminders of my columns almost exclusively focused on horse-race campaign coverage or examining a purely partisan position – and find her takes especially appropriate amid coverage of the last day of the legislative session with significant focus on clarifications to the Safety, Accountability, Fairness and Equity-Today Act.
The criminal justice reform law informed a majority of campaign discourse, including in partisan primaries. Oftentimes candidates didn’t bother clarifying which portions of the January 2021 law were in effect and which were still subject to statutory implementation processes. Credit is due to the politicians who kept pushing for reforms or extra information after election outcomes were known, showing a commitment to the business of governing, not just scoring political points.
Elimination of cash bail was necessarily a two-year process and amendments made this week don’t necessarily invalidate the work of passing the omnibus package in the first place. Future changes are inevitable, as some consequences – intended or otherwise – can only be discovered in practice.
But this is how government works, especially when few elected officials are on the job full time. Macro ideas (e.g., the system should better reflect presumption of innocence) are necessarily complex to enact, and much of that work is, well, boring.
Policy is important. Procedure makes systems run. There’s no government without politicians, but thankfully 2023 isn’t a campaign year.