If voters are offered no choice, is there really an election?
Because of the legislative redistricting process, voters in Illinois will go to the polls on Nov. 6 to elect a brand new state House and Senate — 118 seats in the House and 59 in the Senate.
Those numbers, however, are purely theoretical because the vast majority of candidates in both bodies are running with either little or no opposition, courtesy of the gerrymandering of legislative district boundary lines by House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, both Chicago Democrats.
Thirty (18 Democrats and 12 Republicans) of the 59 Senate races are uncontested while 69 (39 Democrats and 30 Republicans) of the 118 House seats are uncontested. Those numbers, however, only begin to describe the sham nature of the upcoming election because many of the contested Senate and House races are located in districts drawn to strongly favor one party or the other.
In fact, political operatives from both parties recently estimated that only 20 of the 118 House races are competitive while the number of competitive Senate races ranges from 13 to 16 of the 59. In other words, what most voters will confront when they enter the voting booth is not an election for the General Assembly but a fait accompli, reminiscent of voting in some tyrant's fiefdom.
This travesty of democracy results from carefully contrived plans by the state's legislative leaders to take choice away from the public by manipulating legislative district boundary lines and give it to the party in power. In this case, it's the Democrats; Republicans tried to do the same thing when they were in power.
To show how entitled our political masters have become, one need only refer to a comment that state Sen. Michael Frerichs made in a joint public appearance with his Republican opponent John Bambenek. Speaking of the virtues of competitive elections, Frerichs recalled that some of his political associates have told him what a shame it is that he is not running unopposed.
Something has to change if the voters are ever to have any real choice among those who write the laws. The best solution is to adopt a state constitutional amendment establishing a bipartisan legislative map-drawing process aimed at drawing competitive districts. Voters may hear more about that after the election because CHANGE Illinois, a Chicago-based organization with over 2.5 million members, is on the verge of taking up that challenge.
Meanwhile, the election process goes forward in East Central Illinois, and the choices available are as rare here as elsewhere. Only three of nine area races offer even the illusion of choice.
In local races for the Illinois Senate, Republican Chapin Rose is running unopposed in the 51st District, Republican Jason Barickman is running unopposed in the 53rd District, and Republican Dale Righter is running unopposed in the 55th District.
In the 52nd District covering Champaign and Vermilion counties, incumbent Democrat Frerichs faces Bambenek.
There is no question that both men are bright and energetic and possess many of the qualities a legislator must have. Bambenek is running on a reform platform that emphasizes cutting the budget to get the state fiscal house in order and declaring war on Illinois' culture of corruption.
Frerichs is running on his record. Part of that record is the reason The News-Gazette cannot endorse him for re-election. There is much to like about Frerichs, but he is a part of the Democratic Senate majority that has created the financial disaster the state is in, and his first allegiance has been to maintain Cullerton's Chicago-based power structure.
It's worth noting that the local chamber of commerce declined to endorse Frerichs for re-election, as did the Chicago Tribune. He may see himself as separate and apart from the legislative leaders who've spent Illinois into effective bankruptcy, refused to make the mandated pension payments that threaten pensions for teachers and university retirees and generally run amok. But as long as he is a part of the Democratic Senate majority that helped create this disaster, it makes no sense to endorse him.
Bambenek is a bright and energetic reformer with a bull-in-a-china-shop approach to politics-as-usual. But he is running without financial support, party backing or any realistic opportunity to defeat an increasingly entrenched incumbent. We make no endorsement in this race.
As for local House races, only two of six are contested, and those are in name only.
Republican Bill Mitchell is running unopposed in the 101st District, Republican Adam Brown is running unopposed in the 102nd District, Republican Josh Harms is running unopposed in the 106th District and Republican Brad Halbrook is running unopposed in the 110th District.
In the 103rd District, veteran Democratic state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana faces token opposition from Champaign businessman Rob Meister in a district that is one of the mostly heavily gerrymandered in the state.
It's hard to imagine Jakobsson losing in a district so lopsided in favor of Democrats. But The News-Gazette cannot endorse her for the same reason it cannot endorse Frerichs. She has voted repeatedly in the past, and will do so in the future, to elect Madigan as the all-powerful speaker of the Illinois House. He's one of the key authors of the disaster that is state government in Illinois, and the first vote she'll cast after being sworn in to her next term will be to re-elect Madigan as speaker.
During her appearance at a voter's forum last week, Jakobsson defended the legislative process in the House as one that is committee-based and not subject to Madigan's complete domination. We've seldom heard a more inaccurate and duplicitous explanation of how Springfield really works.
Jakobsson is a fine person with a strong record of constituent service. But unfortunately her allegiance to the status quo is unacceptable.
As for Republican Meister, his grasp of the issues is weak. There's no question he could learn, and he may have some future in politics. But it's inexcusable for a candidate for state office to have failed so severely to develop an understanding of the key issues that face Illinois. The News-Gazette makes no endorsement in this race.
In the 104th District, incumbent Republican state Rep. Chad Hays of Catlin is running against Michael Langendorf of Urbana.
The News-Gazette endorses Hays, who shows not just energy and knowledge of big issues but a determination to make the tough decisions to get Illinois back on track. In a House filled with weak sisters and political hacks, Hays is a rare welcome exception.
Langendorf is running to offer the voters a choice, and he has run a credible campaign. We salute his willingness to participate, but endorse Hays.