Unlikely support for Fair Map

When a down-and-dirty politician acknowledges destructive political tactics, the people of Illinois would be well advised to pay attention.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is one of those rare practitioners of politics who revels in his reputation as a ruthless practitioner of the game, one who'll do anything to win and pay back any slight five times over.

So it was revelatory last week when Rahmbo, as he's known in Chicago, made an appearance at a political seminar and, according to news reports, denounced the practice of gerrymandering political maps that gives one political party or the other an advantage.

He described the system whereby officeholders "choose their voters" rather than the other way around as "upside down."

A previous beneficiary of gerrymandering when he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives, Emanuel was quoted as saying that the redistricting system "has to be fixed."

Of course, it's easy for Emanuel to confess the obvious when he no longer personally benefits from it. But it's instructive nonetheless when hardball politicians concede the point that their political gamesmanship is harmful to the democratic process, and people should heed their words.

For the uninitiated, gerrymandering is the process whereby the party in power (In Illinois, it's Democrats; in neighboring Wisconsin, it's Republicans) draw the boundary lines for legislative districts and do so to give their party the electoral advantage.

Given the advantages of modern technology, skilled map-makers can study voting patterns and then artfully draw boundary lines in a way that virtually guarantees favorable results on election day.

In Illinois, majority Democrats drew themselves a 10-year majority following the decennial census and reapportionment in 2010-2011. Republicans did the same thing in states where they had the majority and control of the map.

Proponents of the Fair Map amendment that would put redistricting power in the hands of a bipartisan commission want to put the issue to a public vote in November 2014. But it will take 300,000 signatures to get it on the ballot and then an extraordinary majority to pass into law.

That will require a lot of work. But there's a great argument to be made for taking the partisan politics out of the process, and Emanuel is one of those people who makes it.

Gerrymandering maps is destructive of the democratic process, even if it confers benefits to political insiders. That's what Emanuel said, and he's in a position to know. It's our hope that he's not the last well-known politician to speak the truth on this subject.

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