Editorial | Ohio, Michigan set good example

Editorial | Ohio, Michigan set good example

Illinois is falling farther behind the curve.

While the state of Illinois continues down the road to financial Armageddon and political oblivion represented by its sick status quo, other more successful states continue to shake things up.

A few weeks ago, Ohio voters approved a plan to de-politicize the legislative redistricting process by stripping legislators of the legal authority to draw their own state House and Senate district maps.

Last week, the Michigan Supreme Court approved a November vote on a proposed amendment to the state's Constitution that would establish a bipartisan 13-member commission to draw the state's political map lines and oust self-interested legislators from the process. The court's ruling vindicates efforts by a citizen's group to collect more than 400,000 signatures in their petition-drive effort.

The court voted 4-3 to reject a legal challenge that asserted the proposal represents an unconstitutional intrusion on legislative authority.

"Because (the Voters Not Politicians group's) proposal would leave the form and structure of the government essentially as it was envisioned in the 1963 Constitution, it was not equivalent to a new Constitution and was therefore a permissible amendment," the court's majority ruled.

As is often the case in complex legal disputes, there was a spirited dissent.

Writing for the minority, Justice Steven Markman concluded that the proposal would unlawfully shift tremendous authority to an appointed group of people, something he described as "governance by 13 randomly selected people entirely lacking in any democratic or electoral relationship with the other 10 million people of this state or its elected representatives."

Markman has a valid point, just as the court's majority did in deciding that the proposed amendment meets the legal requirements necessary to be put to a vote.

From an Illinois perspective, what is striking about the ruling is that the court did not break along party lines in ruling as it did. Regardless of their political-party affiliation, the judges called the issue as they saw it.

Unlike the Illinois Supreme Court, where the Democratic justices used their majority power to, in effect, salute Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan and the hyper-partisan process that's in place, the Michigan justices set aside party affiliation.

Of the court's four justices who voted in favor of allowing the amendment to be put to a vote, two — Justices David Viviano and Elizabeth Clement — are appointees of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder — and two — Justices Richard Bernstein and Bridget McCormick — are appointees of a Democratic governor.

Viviano wrote the majority opinion.

Michigan, for the moment, is dominated politically by Republicans. Like the Democrats, who control the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield, Republicans in Michigan have used their redistricting authority to draw House and Senate boundary lines to give them a political advantage.

But Michigan Supreme Court justices set aside politics and, as required by their lofty positions as judges, based their decision on what they thought the law requires, not what party loyalty demands.

So Michigan voters and voters in other states this fall, just like Ohio voters earlier this year, will have an opportunity to substitute a bipartisan citizens group for self-interested legislators when redistricting comes around in 2022.

In Illinois, it's likely that Madigan will do in 2022 what he did in 2002 and 2012 and oversee a redistricting process that will give his political party the legislative majority for at least another 10 years.

As of now, all that can stop the one-party rule that has been so damaging to Illinois is if Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner defeats Democrat J.B. Pritzker in the November election.

If Rauner wins, he can try to use his leverage to get a more balanced map in 2022.

If Pritzker wins, he'll do what former Gov. Pat Quinn did in 2012: sign off on Madigan's gerrymandered maps.

Given recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings, it seems clear that the high court is steering itself away from intruding on the highly political legislative map-drawing process. It appears determined to leave the issue to the states to work out through democratic means.

Frankly, that's fine, because the political process in the states has more flexibility to come up with a effective solution to gerrymandering than the federal courts do.

But that approach will only work in Illinois if the voters divide power between the two parties in a manner than makes cooperation more appealing than confrontation.

Change Illinois, one of the big supporters of redistricting reform in Illinois, is lobbying all Democratic and Republican legislative candidates to demand reform measures if they are elected.

They're free to do so, knowing all the while that Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton will never allow an anti-gerrymandering measure to be the subject of a meaningful vote.

That reality leaves the failed status quo in place. The proponents of positive change — in this case, smashing the corrupt gerrymandering process — always struggle when they confront the insiders who profit from business as usual. But, given a level playing field, they can prevail.

In Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere, citizens have shown what can be done in the face of intransigent opposition. In Illinois, the power brokers have repeatedly shown they play by rules they make up to suit themselves.

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