Map issue too important to fail
The politicians have failed Illinois; it's time for the people to step forward.
It was flattering to learn that Champaign-Urbana residents are among the most enthusiastic signers of petitions that call for stripping state legislators of their authority to draw — and gerrymander — state House and Senate district lines.
Speaking at a League of Women Voters meeting at the Champaign Public Library, Michael Kolenc, who is managing the "Yes for Independent Maps" campaign, said residents of Champaign-Urbana and Peoria rank at the top of downstate communities in the petition-signing process. Not releasing the exact number, Kolenc said "several thousand" local residents signed.
That's a lot of people, but it's a drop in the bucket. The map campaign must collect 300,000-plus signatures by the May 4 deadline — a little more than three months away — to get the issue on the November ballot.
Even if it meets that deadline, this effort faces a multitude of challenges. Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan almost certainly will challenge the petitions' legality. If that fails, he'll try to persuade the courts to strike the measure from the ballot. But the whole process will come to a screeching halt if the petition drive fails.
That requires, Kolenc said, the campaign to use paid petition circulators. Collecting 300,000-plus signatures requires too many people to work too many hours to rely on volunteers. The Illinois League of Women Voters tried to use volunteers alone in 2010 to put a map amendment on the ballot, and it didn't come close.
But it's not just petition circulators — either paid or volunteers — who will make the difference. Voters who resent not having a real choice for state House and Senate races need to get involved.
The map proposal is simple to understand — it removes the legislative reapportionment process from the General Assembly and reassigns it to an independent commission. No longer would individual legislators draw their own district lines and select their preferred voters.
Reapportionment occurs every 10 years after the completion of the census. Its aim is to redraw legislative boundary lines to reflect population increases, creating districts of roughly equal size.
But the majority party uses the process to draw politically advantageous districts, a move that can perpetuate House and Senate majorities for a decade or more. In other words, the elections are rigged.
Consequently, most voters have little choice because most incumbents face little or no competition for re-election.
It's a rancid process that alienates legislators from their constituents, leaving them beholden to their party's legislative leaders.
It's not a cure-all for what ails Illinois, but kicking the politicians out of the redistricting process is a good first step.
Those who wish to sign petitions or pick them up for circulation can visit the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce at 303 W. Kirby Ave., C, (217-359-1791) or Barbara Wysocki of the League of Women Voters (217-367-5014 or email@example.com).
This campaign won't be successful without an aroused public. Remember, the political status quo is most certainly corrupt, but it doesn't have to be permanent.