"To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so they cannot hear."
-- Jeremiah 6:10
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Complaints about public apathy are, literally, ancient history. And, though righteous indignation today over the politics of representative government may not exactly equate with the Hebrew prophet Jeremiah's warnings about impending doom, anyone who has had occasion to take an unwelcome or difficult message to an indifferent audience knows the frustration.
This was some of my thinking this week as, in a session representing the Daily Herald editorial board, I met with a couple of angry suburban leaders looking for an audience on the new congressional map designed by Democratic legislators and sitting on the desk of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn. The map is an abomination from the point of view of the suburbs. It carves existing political districts into shapes so unnatural that, as we said in a Daily Herald editorial, its purpose is clearly to "maximize the elective chances of Democrats" and disenfranchise Republicans.
Our visitors -- Lake County Board Chairman David B. Stolman and DuPage County Auditor Bob Grogan are Republicans, and it's natural for Republicans to condemn a map that hurts them. In the suburbs, bluing though we may be, that is a substantial crowd, and its voice is dulled, to say the least, in the new map. Stolman and Grogan, representing a coalition called the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, want more attention given to the map. I pointed out that the Daily Herald's own editorial had called the map "an abuse of power." Just a week or so before, politics and projects writer Kerry Lester published a detailed story describing how the map had been drawn to make Republican voices the minority in as many areas as possible -- even to the point of giving Chicago, which lost population, an additional congressional seat while taking one away from the suburbs, which gained population.
"How do we educate people on this?" Grogan lamented.
I replied that I wasn't sure. The Daily Herald already has printed an outraged editorial, and, in addition to Lester's piece, we have written extensively about the map and the political process, such as it was, that created it. We'll no doubt do more as the issue proceeds.
Even so, the three of us wondered how much people know about the process and why, in the suburbs especially, they're not expressing more outrage. One reason, of course, could be that they're just not that outraged. Another, more plausible explanation for me, is that they're tapped out on outrage. People's trust in politicians is just so low that they often don't think it worth the effort to complain -- or vote. (Lest anyone think, by the way, that heinous gerrymandering is a purely Democratic phenomenon, one need look only to DuPage County, where last month, incumbents on the overwhelmingly Republican county board proposed a contorted new district to prevent a former candidate, also a Republican, from running against them next year.)
Whatever the case, loath as I am to wail in the wilderness to an unreceptive public, the congressional map is important, and Gov. Quinn hasn't signed off on it yet, so there's still some chance he could be moved by a well-placed appeal to his claims of independence and fairness. And, certainly, as our editorial urged, there's plenty of time before the next census to change the process that makes remapping such ugly business. Unlike Jeremiah's time, the harvest is not yet past, and we may yet be saved. But only if we'll give a complicated but critically important system just a little attention.
Jim Slusher, firstname.lastname@example.org, is a Daily Herald assistant managing editor. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.