Voters must act to change Illinois
It's well past time for the public to take real charge of how our state legislators are chosen.
There is a reason change doesn't come easy in a state as corrupt (politically and financially) as Illinois.
It's because too many people benefit from the status quo. These insiders will fight to the death to protect their power, and that's why they have to be stripped of their guarantees to it.
Some good government groups, principally the League of Women Voters, tried a few years ago to take the politicians of out of the once-a-decade process of drawing new state legislative district boundary lines and put it in the hands of a bipartisan commission. Unfortunately, they failed miserably because they lacked the time, strength and resources to tackle such a big job.
But this past week, another public interest group, CHANGE Illinois, announced that it will pick up that fallen mantle and try to introduce actual representative democracy into the process of electing members of the Illinois House and Senate.
CHANGE Illinois' goal is to pass a state constitutional amendment that would establish a commission to draw legislative district lines that would give voters real choices as to who represents them. It would replace the sham process now in place where incumbent legislators draw their own district lines.
Everyone should acknowledge up front that this is an iffy proposition, mostly because it requires the state's voters to rise from their slumber and smash the old way of doing business. That's a tall order because Illinois voters have been remarkably indifferent over the years to the kind of political misconduct that would have voters in other states in open revolt.
But the people have the power to fight back, if they will only use it. CHANGE Illinois' proposed constitutional amendment is one way of doing so.
Anyone ever wonder why state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, a Democrat, runs unopposed or without a credible opponent every two years? Or why former state Rep. (now state Sen.) Chapin Rose, a Republican, did the same?
It was because Jakobsson's district lines were drawn to ensure a Democrat won. It was because Rose's legislative district lines were drawn to elect a Republican. All across Illinois, legislative candidates run either without opposition or without credible opposition because the elections are rigged through the creative drawing of district boundary lines to produce intended results.
According to the State Board of Election, only 4 percent of legislative races statewide between 2002-2010 were competitive. In nearly half the elections, candidates ran unopposed. That is outrageous. It renders democracy meaningless.
This is not a partisan issue. Republicans have tried to do the same thing in the past that majority Democrats do now.
This process guarantees the majority the spoils of political war — lavish pensions, perks and jobs to hand out to friends and the ability to decide unilaterally how political issues will be addressed. Most important, it puts them beyond the reach of the voters.
But consider what this political self-service has produced — a bankrupt, dysfunctional, miserable state that is the laughingstock of the country.
Illinois surely will continue down this path to disaster unless the people make changes.
CHANGE Illinois said it's in the "exploratory" phase of the process and that it will be holding public meetings to determine the proposed amendment's final language. Since the powers-that-be in the Legislature will never put this proposed amendment up for a vote on their own, it will require a massive voter petition drive.
Starting in June, CHANGE Illinois and a coalition of organizations from across the state will begin the pursuit of the nearly 300,000 signatures needed to put the issue on the 2014 ballot.
The proposed amendment would strip the Legislature of map-drawing authority and establish a bipartisan, independent commission to do so. If approved, the map-drawing process of 2022 would be done in a way to serve, rather than subvert, the public interest.
It's no accident that the change would not take effect for another nine years. The time delay is intended to appease those legislative leaders, like Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, who might otherwise be inclined to throw every roadblock imaginable in the way of this important proposal. They still may, but they'll be less inclined to do so if they feel they won't be personally affected by the proposed amendment.
Make no mistake about it. The proposed amendment is vitally important to the future of Illinois. It's no panacea, but it is an important first step in trying to draw Illinois out of the shadows of corruption and incompetence into the sunshine of honest, effective and politically accountable state government.