Hearings where no one listens

Hearings where no one listens

Why have transparency in state government when you can have the illusion of transparency in government?

Illinois legislators can't be bothered to summon the energy necessary to deal with the state's ongoing budget crisis. But they are tireless when it comes to running scams on the public regarding the purported openness of state government.

Their latest con is SB 3976, the Illinois Voting Rights Act of 2011 and the Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act. In their hurry to pass this bogus bill, they forget to add the words "mom" and "apple pie" to the string of cliches that comprise the bill's title.

The legislation, which awaits action in the Illinois House after passing the Senate by a 53-4 vote, would require a series of public hearings as a prelude to redrawing state legislative district lines next year. But it will all be meaningless talk or "not worth the paper it's printed on," as Cindi Canary, executive director of the Campaign for Political Reform, put it.

Illinois, like all states, is required to draw new boundary lines following the decennial census that tracks population growth and movement. The goal is to ensure that legislative districts are roughly equal in size, but that plays second fiddle to the efforts of the majority party, through the clever drawing of boundary lines, to give itself a permanent political advantage over the minority party.

Democrats, largely as a result of the 2001 gerrymander, have control of the Illinois General Assembly. They maintained that majority in the Nov. 2 election, and they intend to use their majority status to keep state Republicans in minority status for the next 10 years.

Taking political advantage like this is one of the unsavory spoils of political war. Many, but not all, states do it this way.

So, sure as the sun will rise tomorrow, Democrats, meeting in secret, will draft and pass a map that gives their party a permanent geographical advantage. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton wouldn't have it any other way.

But, for reasons known only to them, some legislators want the public to believe this tawdry process isn't as nakedly political as it really is. That's why state Sen. Kwame Raoul, a Chicago Democrat, proposed legislation requiring the hearings.

"We need to get the public's confidence back," he said.

There are two ways for legislators to win the public's confidence: they can act in a way that serves the public's interest or act in a way that they hope will fool the public into believing legislators care about the public interest.

Sen. Raoul and his Democrat colleagues have opted for the latter approach, and it's amazing the Senate Republicans went along with his scam. They did so because the legislation also includes provisions designed to enhance minority representation, although that's just window dressing.

There's nothing wrong with pre-map hearings. But what about holding public hearings on the map Democratic leaders ultimately propose? How about releasing the census information and allowing various interest groups to draft and propose their own maps? Democrats rejected amendments to do that.

"What is the problem with telling the public why (Democrats) drew the map the way they drew it?" Canary asks.

That might seem like a reasonable question, and actually, it is. But this is Illinois, the state where politicians, through the gerrymandering process, choose their constituents rather than the other way around.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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