Local citizens are joining up with a statewide effort to take partisan politics out of the Illinois' legislative map-drawing process and give voters more choices on Election Day.
Cleaning up government in Illinois is a big job that is too important to be left it to one political party or a small group of people, no matter how dedicated.
That's why readers of Tom Kacich's Wednesday column should have been cheered to read about the local, bipartisan effort in support of putting a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot aimed at removing partisan politics from the legislative map-drawing process.
We apologize for beating this drum so frequently in the past as well as for our intention to continue to tout the virtues of the "Yes for Independent Maps" campaign. It's just too important not to emphasize.
When it comes to state government, Illinois is in dire straits.
Some speak of a death spiral — a trend that cannot be reversed because of overwhelming fiscal problems and a legislature ruled by powerful politicos whose interests are at odds with the public interest. Others are not quite so pessimistic but still dismayed by the depths to which the state has sunk.
One way to make our elected officials more responsive to the public interest and less beholden to their legislative leaders is to strip the bosses of their power to draw boundary lines for state House and Senate districts. But it will take a lot of work and resources to gather roughly 300,000 signatures by early May to put the issue before the voters the following November.
Locally, former county board members Steve Beckett, Barb Wysocki and Al Nudo — two Democrats and a Republican, respectively — have joined the local effort to collect petition signatures.
On a statewide basis, prominent Democrats including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, former U.S. Sen. Adlai Stevenson and longtime Democratic Party operative David Axelrod have aligned themselves on this issue with prominent Republicans like former White House Chief of Staff Sam Skinner and state Treasurer and GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Rutherford.
The goal is to remove map-drawing power from the political party controlling the Legislature and put it in the hands of a bipartisan commission.
The intention is to create more competitive elections so that voters have a choice on Election Day instead of being presented a fait accompli in the form of incumbents either unopposed or facing only token opposition.
Right now, the maps favor majority Democrats, who drew themselves into a 10-year majority (2012-2022) in the General Assembly. In the past, Republicans have won the right to draw the maps and tried to gerrymander the turf in a way that benefited them. It's time to replace those selfish interests with the public interest.
Even though this proposal, if it passes, will not take effect until 2020, it has powerful opposition.
House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton like the status quo because it enhances their power and perks of office. Many legislators from both parties also like it because they have safe districts that virtually guarantee re-election.
Assuming supporters gather the necessary signatures, Madigan, Cullerton or their representatives can be expected to lodge a variety of legal and petition challenges aimed at keeping the plan off the ballot.
That's why it's so important that this effort attract the broad, bipartisan support necessary to build a strong petition-gathering campaign and then attract the extraordinary majority needed to win voter approval.
Voters, no matter what their political persuasion, want a choice when they go to the polls. Because of gerrymandering, few voters have a real choice when it comes to choosing their state legislators.
That must change if Illinois is to change. Supporting Yes for Independent Maps isn't a cure-all, but it is a necessary step if the Land of Lincoln ever is to again become worthy of that name.