Do it the easy way

Do it the easy way

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Legislators could save Independent Map volunteers a lot of work if they would embrace the fair map movement.

The statewide Independent Maps movement recently lost one leader and then quickly found another in its campaign to put a proposed constitutional amendment requiring a bipartisan legislative map-drawing process on the 2016 ballot.

The organization is trying to collect the more than 300,000 signatures of registered voters, one of a number of hurdles required to put a citizen initiative on the ballot.

But there's a better, easier way to achieve the same result, and it's one that state legislators — Democrats and Republicans — should embrace. Members of the House and Senate can bypass the citizen-driven initiative process by voting to put the proposal on the ballot themselves.

Springfield political maven Rich Miller, who oversees the informative Capitol Fax website, suggests that legislative Democrats, who built their House and Senate supermajorities on gerrymandered districts, "get out front on this issue."

"The reason I think Democrats ought to be backing this concept is simple: It's in their self-interest. If things remain the same and Gov. Rauner is re-elected, he'll have a 50-50 chance of drawing the new district map.

"So, the Democrats need to ask themselves if they'd be happier with a remap reform amendment that they draft themselves, or would they rather (new Independent Maps Executive Director Cynthia) Canary push through her own version, or would they prefer that none of that happened and they simply roll the dice on Rauner's 2018 campaign," Miller said in a recent post on Capitol Fax.

The problems with politicians is that it's all about them, and nowhere is that more true than when it comes to drawing the district boundary lines for the Illinois House and Senate.

Rather than compromise on a bipartisan map in which both parties have a chance to win in most of the House and Senate districts, Illinois' politicians have preferred to play winner-take-all, literally picking the winner out of a hat. That's how Democrats won the right to draw the map in 2001.

In 2011, they used the Democratic legislative majorities they achieved and a Democratic governor (Pat Quinn) to gerrymander the maps again.

But Illinoisans elected Republican Bruce Rauner in 2014. If he's re-elected in 2018, it could gum up Democratic plans for another gerrymander in 2021. Miller suggests Democrats might have to live under a GOP map.

"The Democrats need to set aside their institutional arrogance and reform this process. Plus, I see it as a possible trade. Instead of the term limits amendment that Gov. Rauner is currently demanding, the Dems could give Rauner this issue and perhaps check a box on the governor's Turnaround Agenda list," he contends.

Miller's proposed trade would be good for everybody. Term limits would not be necessary if a bipartisan map-drawing process produced competitive districts in which both parties could win.

Unfortunately and undeniably, the numbers demonstrate that current House and Senate maps are an electoral joke.

There was only one candidate last year in 82 of the 137 legislative races. Even among those contested races, many races featured only token opposition because the maps were drawn to give Democrats the advantage.

It's hard to imagine any set of circumstances under which Democratic leaders — House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton — would voluntarily abandon the gerrymander option. It's served both of them extremely well. But despite their opposition, many prominent Democrats as well as Republicans support the Independent Map movement.

Miller's proposal is a long shot, at best. But it's a good idea, one that would serve the public interest by reinserting real democracy — competitive elections — in races for the General Assembly.

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