Make Fair Map a common goal

Make Fair Map a common goal

Gov. Pat Quinn, who has never been shy about shaking up the corrupt status quo, should take a leading role in taking the politics out of the legislative map-drawing process.

If there is anything more nonpartisan or bipartisan than the concept of holding fair, competitive legislative elections, it's hard to imagine what it could be.

Who could disagree?

That's why it's time for Gov. Pat Quinn, a Democrat, to join with his Republican challengers in the November 2014 gubernatorial race and endorse the adoption of the Fair Map Amendment (http://independentmaps.org/) to the Illinois Constitution.

The Fair Map plan isn't a cure for all the ills of our downtrodden state, but eliminating the corrupt process by which state House and Senate districts are gerrymandered to produce sure winners and losers would be a big step in the right direction.

The Fair Map plan calls for taking the redistricting process, which occurs every 10 years after the census, out of the hands of the selfish and self-interested politicians and putting it under the control of a bipartisan commission. Rather than draw state House and Senate boundary lines to guarantee one political party or the other an electoral advantage, the commission's job would be to draw nonpoliticized maps that would produce competitive elections, meaning a candidate of either party has a realistic chance of winning.

Under our current arrangement, courtesy of a world-class gerrymandering job, very few Senate and House districts are competitive. In the November 2012 election, political pros from both parties estimated that just 13 to 16 of the Senate's 59 seats and roughly 20 of the 118 Illinois House seats offered voters a competitive choice.

There's virtually no way for a Republican to win in the House district represented by Democrat Naomi Jakobsson, just as no Democrat can win in the House districts of Republicans Adam Brown or Chad Hays or the Senate districts of Republicans Jason Barickman or Chapin Rose.

Under the proposed change to nonpartisan map-drawing, far more districts would be competitive because the tricks of the gerrymandering trade would be barred.

Three of the four Republican candidates for governor — Dan Rutherford, Kirk Dillard and Bruce Rauner — already have endorsed the Fair Map plan, and it would be no surprise if Sen. Bill Brady joins them. Quinn has yet to declare himself on this proposal, but his political roots as a reformer who loves to challenge the establishment should make him a natural ally of Fair Map backers.

Members of the Democratic Party establishment, of course, oppose Fair Map because they're the ones drawing the maps. Senate President John Cullerton and House Speaker Michael Madigan did such a good job gerrymandering the 2012 map that they won veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate.

That, by the way, can't make Quinn feel very good. Cullerton and Madigan can run, and have run, roughshod over the governor by virtue of their majorities and the firm control they wield over individual legislators.

There is no doubt this proposal has popular political appeal. But no one should underestimate the difficulty of passing Fair Map.

For starters, proponents have to collect at least 300,000 petition signatures by May 4, 2014, survive inevitable petition and legal challenges and then persuade an extraordinary majority (60 percent) of voters to support it at the polls.

Plenty can go wrong in such a long, difficult process. That's why it's important for natural allies, like Quinn, of this entirely reasonable proposal to jump on board. There's no reason Democrats and Republicans can't join together, ignore the narrow interests of the political parties and embrace a plan that is in the broad public interest.

Competitive elections bolster the democratic process, discourage legislators from forgetting about the folks back home and foster a cooperative approach to law-making. What Illinois has now is pretty much the opposite, and it's long past time for a change.

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