Democrats Kill Redistricting Reform While Taking Credit for Supporting It

Opinion by Reboot Illinois' Madeleine Doubek

On Thursday, we got the news that the Democrats elected to the Illinois Supreme Court had rejected giving Illinois voters a chance to have their say on redistricting with some of the partisanship removed.

The decision was completely partisan. Majority Democrats on the court voted no to letting the redistricting question go before voters while the Republicans voted yes.

On Friday, I came home to another letter from one of the Democrats who is supposed to represent me in Springfield. This one was all about how that Democrat voted to make legislative mapmaking fairer.

What fortuitous timing, she wrote sarcastically. I'm guessing nearly everyone who lives in a district considered contested or competitive got one of these letters that surely were ordered and designed by House Speaker Mike Madigan's and Senate President John Cullerton's minions. Of course, less than a third of districts up for election this year even are contested because of the political control over redistricting.

My letter said Legislator or Candidate X "believes Illinois must change the way the state's legislative district boundaries are drawn so politics can be removed from the process and true reform can begin." It even implied my legislator owned or authored a House Joint Resolution that was "superior to other so-called 'reform' proposals because it provides: true independence," true diversity, true transparency...blah, blah, blah.

What a crock of baloney. Do not buy it.

In classic, clever campaign legislating, majority House Democrats pushed through and approved one redistricting reform proposal, while majority Senate Democrats pushed through a different one. In order for redistricting changes to be made law, the two Democratic-run chambers would have to approve the same plan and then it could go to the governor for his consideration.

That didn't happen. On purpose. So now you still can have Democratic lawmakers and Democratic candidates saying they support redistricting reform, or they're on record supporting it, or they practically sponsored it as they campaign to win your vote Nov. 8.

Let's be crystal clear on three points:

  1. If Republicans won the power to draw legislative maps after a U.S. Census, they would draw them to their political advantage too, just as they did once in the 1990s.

  • Democrats have won the power more lately and have used it to full advantage.
  • Democrats are the ones blocking a less-partisan approach to legislative mapmaking.
  • If you want to have a shot at fixing Illinois politics, redistricting reform is one of the best ways to start. Corruption is born when politicians draw maps to their advantage, packing voters into districts they know will vote for their candidates based on their voting histories. Or they pack candidates or lawmakers from their opposing party into the same district so one of them can't win. Often in the process, they draw districts that look like ear muffs or spaghetti or spiders. Or they draw districts where one side of a block is represented by one lawmaker and the neighbors across the street have a different politician.

    There's no guarantee that changing the way legislative maps are drawn will fix everything. Few things are perfect and most such attempts create unintended consequences. But nearly any change in the redistricting process that removes the conflict inherent in politicians drawing their own home bases is worth a shot.

    The Independent Map Amendment group that was the second consecutive one to try and to be shot down by Democrats in the courts is weighing whether to ask the court for a rehearing.

    Last week, Democratic Supreme Court justices said the amendment group erred by including the state's Auditor General in its plan by having that officer oversee the process for selecting independent commissioners to draw maps.

    Having seen the history of rigged mapping and attempts at changing it in Illinois, Republicans on the supreme court assailed their Democratic brethren.

    "The Illinois Constitution was meant to prevent tyranny, not enshrine it," Republican Justice Bob Thomas wrote.

    Enshrined tyranny. That's just what we have in Illinois. We've become numb to it.

    Independents and Democrats with common sense have to join Republicans in concluding any attempt at changing redistricting is rigged against the people as the current maps are. Our very democratic, small d, rights are being stripped from us. We need to wake ourselves up from the stupor of our Illinois political slavery. Stop thinking that it doesn't matter or it's hopeless. Recruit family, friends and neighbors.

    Call, email, visit your elected officials. Tell them to work with the other chamber and approve the same form of redistricting changes to send to the governor. Keep telling them. Keep up the pressure. Again and again. When they tell you they voted for reform, laugh at them. Tell them you'll vote for them after they see that redistricting changes are Illinois law.

    That letter? The amendment it mentions, House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 58, was supported by some reputable groups in Illinois that also supported the Independent Map Amendment. The letter correctly says that other version of redistricting reform was supported by Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Small Business Advocacy Council.

    But again, Madigan and Cullerton made sure each chamber passed different versions of redistricting reform. Tell them to get HJRCA 58 to Gov. Bruce Rauner after the election or to call a special session and get it done now. Or tell them to pass the Independent Map Amendment version because lawmakers can approve whatever they want, unlike citizen voters. Tell them then, and only then, will you consider voting for them.

    Call them on their campaign crocks of nonsense. Democrats control the Supreme Court, the state House and Senate. Voting for something isn't enough. Give us a real redistricting reform law supported by non-partisan experts.

    Call the Democrats' bluff. Hold them accountable. Illinois Republicans, Democrats, and independents of common sense must unite. We have nothing to lose but our chains.