The General Assembly's long list of failures this session -- a weak ethics bill, no school funding reform, and the passage a of an irresponsible, unbalanced budget -- proves that Illinois is in desperate need of representatives who will put the public good ahead of their ...
The General Assembly's long list of failures this session -- a weak ethics bill, no school funding reform, and the passage a of an irresponsible, unbalanced budget -- proves that Illinois is in desperate need of representatives who will put the public good ahead of their political preservation. What's the best hope for new blood? The Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's David Morrison points to the scheduled redrawing of the legislative map. And yesterday a Senate redistricting panel began hearings on how to remove politics from the process when it comes up in 2011.
First, a little historical context on how the remapping has been hijacked by politics over the past three decades. In 1981, 1991, and 2001 lawmakers tried to tackle redistricting as whole, but each time failed to find consensus. Instead, the legislative leaders appointed four members from both parties to an eight-member commission who then met behind closed doors to tweak the district boundaries. Not surprisingly, those negotiations came to a halt as well, with both sides proposing a map that benefited their party. This gridlock prompted what Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green dubs "the big mistake" -- a tie-breaker policy in which a ninth member of the commission is selected by lottery (as WBEZ's Sam Hudzik put it, "the secretary of state pull[s] a name out of a hat, box or whatever"). The party affiliation of that additional member essentially "sets the stage for who runs the legislature for the next 10 years," Green says.
The obvious solution would be to take the process out of the hands of the lawmakers. After all, their conflicts of interest are obvious.
Who then would propose new boundaries? One idea is to let the public submit new maps that fit a predetermined set of criteria. This alternative is being pushed by Rep. Mike Fortner (R-DeKalb) who suggests that, in the end, the General Assembly could put the three most popular maps to a vote. (For an idea of how it would work, try playing the Annenberg Center's redistricting game here.)
Morrison tells us that, at the very least, lawmakers need to acknowledge there's a problem and agree to move the remapping deliberations from behind closed doors. For years, rumors have swirled about lines being drawn to benefit specific lawmakers or take power away from certain ethnic voting blocs. "We don't know what's driving the system," Morrison says. But he also characterizes the reform debate as scattered at the moment: "There's no consensus on where we're trying to go. Instead of being like a boxing match, it's like a train station and everyone is trying to decide which train to get on. We need to get on the same train."
More concrete proposals will likely emerge during a series of hearings scheduled through the early fall. In the meantime, get up to speed on issue by checking out the Brennan Center for Justice's Citizen's Guide to Redistricting here (PDF).