Can't let map amendment fail
A bipartisan group of high-profile politicos have endorsed the "Yes for Independent Maps" movement, the latest being former Gov. Jim Edgar.
Jim Edgar's recent endorsement of a proposed state constitutional amendment requiring independent legislative redistricting came as no great surprise. He's always been a good-government guy, and the plan to strip members of the House and Senate of their ability to pick their own voters, rather than the other way around, is the ultimate good-government measure.
But Edgar's endorsement does provide another opportunity to emphasize just how important the "Yes for Independent Maps" effort is if Illinois ever is to have a chance to lift itself out of the financial and political quagmire it's in now.
Our ever-self-interested legislators — thanks to many years of short-sighted decisions — have driven Illinois to its knees. Unfortunately, they will continue to remain beyond the reach of voters until a new legislative map-drawing process that puts the public first, rather than the politicians, is adopted.
Voters will have the opportunity to approve a measure that would strip legislators of their legal authority to draw their own district lines if backers of independent maps collect at least 300,000 signatures by the May 4 deadline.
Michael Kolenc, who is spearheading this effort, said the signature collection process is "going great." But he's declined to say how many signatures have been collected.
The Illinois League of Women Voters took the same secretive approach four years ago when they engaged in a similar effort to put an independent-maps proposal on the ballot. They fell well short of the number of signatures that were required. So it's hard to know whether to be pleased or worried about Kolenc's public comments.
What really matters, however, is that everyone who supports the idea of giving voters more choices on Election Day sign the petition for an independent map-drawing process.
The issue may seem complicated to some, but it's really not.
Legislative districts are redrawn every 10 years to account for populations shifts and changes. Under that arrangement, the party in power in the General Assembly draws district lines that give itself a big political advantage. The result is that few incumbents can be seriously challenged and even fewer races are competitive. It's an incumbent protection racket for both parties — one in the permanent majority and the other in the permanent minority — that effectively cuts the voters out of an election process they are, at least theoretically, supposed to control.
The independent-map effort would strip legislators from the redistricting process and put it in the hands of an independent commission charged with drawing House and Senate districts that are compact, contiguous and not intended to provide either party an advantage.
There still would be some districts that overwhelmingly favor one party or another. But there also would be more districts where voters would have a real choice on Election Day.
That would make legislators more responsive to the people who elect them rather than to the party leaders who provide for them once they get to Springfield.
This should not be a partisan issue. When Republicans controlled the Legislature in the early 1990s, they tried, but failed, to gerrymander themselves into a permanent majority. When Democrats held majority status in 2002 and 2012, they were much more effective in their effort to give themselves permanent control. They now hold overwhelming numerical advantages in both the House and the Senate.
That kind of permanent one-party control — no matter what party — is not in the public interest. It encourages public corruption and public disinterest, a combination that undermines the democratic process.
The independent-map effort, if successful, won't be a cure-all. It is, however, a great way to get our legislators' attention.
Unfortunately, people have to put this measure on the ballot through the petition process because House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton will never do it. Indeed, they can be expected to use every tactic they can think of to strike this measure from the ballot if the petition drive is successful.
Those who care about the future of this state must step up. Locally, petitions are available at the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, 303 W. Kirby Ave., C. Individuals like Barbara Wysocki (367-5014 or firstname.lastname@example.org) of the League of Women Voters are circulating petitions throughout the community.
Time is drawing short, and this effort cannot be allowed to fail. If it does, the people of Illinois will have only themselves to blame.