Gerrymandering issue is back

Gerrymandering issue is back

Putting politicians on the hot seat is the best way to generate change.

Political reformers in a corrupt state like Illinois often are starry-eyed dreamers who, the facts show, like to dream big.

One of their biggest — and most unrealistic dreams — is to persuade Illinois governors and legislators to give up the tawdry practice of legislative gerrymandering. Good-government crusaders have tried — and failed — for several years to get the issue on the ballot so voters can revise the current practice that allows legislators to draw their own districts. Thanks to power politics and suspiciously convenient judicial rulings against them, reformers weren't successful in getting the issue before the voters.

But with another big state election looming, a coalition of groups favoring the fair map amendment has announced that it intends to put all Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates on the record to explain their positions.

"It's time to get them to state publicly if they support the status quo or if they'll fight for fairer maps for all Illinois voters," said John Sirek, the interim executive director of Change Illinois.

The organization — which was joined by, among others, the Better Government Association, NAACP Chicago, the League of Women Voters and Common Cause Illinois — sent an 18-question survey to each of the Democratic and Republican gubernatorial candidates asking whether "they support ending the practice of gerrymandering."

The deadline for the candidates' responses is Jan. 23, and their replies will be posted online and shared with the news media and the public.

"The winner of the 2018 gubernatorial election will preside over the next redistricting process in 2021. Will they support the status quo and just rubber stamp whatever maps are put in front of them, or will they demand additional transparency and support independent maps that put Illinois voters first?" Sirek asked.

Gerrymandering is an explosive political issue with nationwide implications.

The issue is currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, which is being asked to strike down partisan legislative districts drawn in Wisconsin as unconstitutional.

It involves the manipulation of legislative district boundary lines by the party in power to give that party, either Democrats or Republicans, a partisan advantage.

In Wisconsin, Republicans who controlled the executive and legislative branches of government, drew maps that favored the GOP. In Illinois, Democrats have drawn maps that have given them control of the Legislature for nearly two decades.

If Democrats elect a governor from their party in November, they'll be in a position to manipulate legislative elections to assure them control of the General Assembly through 2032.

So it's a big issue, one that will require legislative action to get the issue on the ballot for voters to consider.

The proposed amendment would strip the party in power of the authority to draw the maps, transferring it to a citizen panel barred from considering partisan factors in fashioning legislative maps.

That way, there would be fewer one-party legislative House and Senate districts in Illinois and more choices and competition for voters.

Having a governor take an anti-gerrymandering position would be significant. But it would be even more significant if individual legislators of both parties would express their opposition to partisan map-drawing and press Democratic legislative leaders — House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton — to allow a legitimate vote in both houses to put the issue on the ballot.

Legislators have done so in the past but in a most cynical way.

Legislative leaders were careful to make sure that their House and Senate members voted on different anti-gerrymandering bills and that neither of the bills was the subject of action in the other chamber.

Voters heard a lot about the gerrymandering issue two years ago. They'll hear more this year.

Partisan legislative maps represent a problem that can't continue to be ignored — because they serve the political preferences of self-interested politicians determined to maintain their power.

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