Once upon a time, the governor of Illinois promised to oversee a non-gerrymandered redrawing of legislative districts. But when the Legislature sent him a gerrymandered map favoring his party, the governor happily signed it into law.
That was 2011, and the governor was Pat Quinn.
So it’s not like there was no precedent for double-dealing when Gov. J.B. Pritzker last week made it clear that his previous pledge to oversee a fair legislative map-drawing process and veto an unfair map is now inoperative.
It is, in fact, so inoperative that he’s now pretending he never made the promise in the first place.
“Yes, I will pledge to veto. We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map,” candidate Pritzker said when running for governor in 2018.
Still clinging to his totally incredible veto pledge, here’s what he said last week.
“Well, as I said, I will veto an unfair map. I have also said that in order for us to have an independent commission, we needed to have a constitutional amendment, something that would actually change the way the process operates today in the (Illinois) Constitution. That did not happen. So now, as we reach the end of this session and I look to the Legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map, I’ll be looking to it for its fairness,” he said.
Translated from politician-speak, that means Pritzker, like Quinn, will approve whatever maps supermajority Democrats send to him.
Springfield political analyst Rich Miller put in differently in his caustic response to Pritzker’s slithering evasions.
“The Illinois Constitution does not need to be changed to create a fair map process. It can be done by statute or even a joint resolution of both chambers,” Miller wrote. “And while Pritzker preferred a constitutional amendment in 2018, he clearly didn’t predicate an independent commission on an amendment.”
The question now is whether Illinois’ multibillionaire governor misled voters about his intentions. He certainly mischaracterized his position on what are called “fair maps.” But in politician world, that is a far cry from misleading voters.
For starters, people should have been smart enough to know Pritzker was not being, by politician standards, untruthful. He was saying what he felt had to be said under the circumstances because people, when they understand what gerrymandering is, don’t like it.
Pritzker wanted voters to back him, so he felt compelled to say he had an extreme aversion to gerrymandering, the process of manipulating legislative boundary lines to give one party a political advantage.
No one who knows how the redistricting process really works could possibly have taken the governor at his word.
Gerrymandering, which could guarantee control of the Legislature through 2032, is simply too important to the majority party to abandon in the name of doing the right thing for the right reason.
Careers — and fortunes — will be made on the back of a new round of manipulated state House and Senate maps, and Pritzker was never going to risk alienating legislative Democrats by breaking their toy.
It’s clear that Pritzker regretted his non-promise from the moment he used it to become the leading Democratic vote-getter in the 2018 primary. He’s been running from it ever since he captured his party’s nomination in March 2018 and became the front-runner to win the governor’s race.
His non-pledge has been nothing but an irritant since then, brought up repeatedly by reporters looking to catch him in what most people will regard as a monumental flip-flop that will anger proponents of fair maps.
But those people don’t count, because there are not enough of them. As a consequence, Pritzker’s non-pledge doesn’t count because he was just kidding when he gave the public the unmistakable impression that he really did support fair maps.
So did Pritzker lie, as judged by the traditional standard of what constitutes a falsehood for our elected leaders?
Of course not — he was just kidding. It’s not his fault if the public can’t take a joke.
Jim Dey, a member of The News-
Gazette staff, can be reached at email@example.com or 217-393-8251.