Analysis of the 2011 legislative cartography that may have ensured a decade of virtual one-party rule in Illinois is an exercise in both dark humor and futility.
For dark humor, recall the host of Democrats who, like Chicagoan Barbara Flynn Currie, hailed the process that created new legislative boundaries as the "most transparent, accountable, open redistricting process in the history of this state." After less than two weeks of hearings, Democrats drew a map behind closed doors that heavily favored their party, unveiled it the week before Memorial Day and approved a final version less than 48 hours after presenting it.
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In signing the maps into law, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn commended lawmakers for "significantly increasing openness and transparency in the remap process."
For futility, consider the federal appeals court's blunt concession, in answer to a Republican legal challenge, that the Democrat-drawn congressional map was a "blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats." The court went on to say that doesn't matter when determining whether a map is fair or constitutional and rejected the GOP challenge.
So, the state's system is a sorry joke and the courts won't do anything about it. Is that what we are stuck with?
Not necessarily. CHANGE Illinois!, a coalition of reform groups from throughout the state, launched a drive last week designed to build true transparency and nonpartisanship into the design of state legislative districts.
The group's goal is to collect nearly 300,000 signatures in time to put a constitutional amendment to change Illinois' redistricting process on the November 2014 ballot, and it is taking its proposals around the state on what Executive Director Ryan Blitstein calls a "listening tour" before starting in earnest the arduous process of first collecting signatures, then persuading Illinoisans to agree to its ideas. The first informational program will be held in Peoria next week, jointly sponsored by CHANGE Illinois! and Reboot Illinois.
CHANGE's ideas -- built around establishment of an independent commission -- make vast improvements to redistricting in Illinois, but changing the constitution through a grass-roots campaign is no simple matter. It may well take every available day to make this a reality before the next maps are drawn seven years from now.
At a website devoted to the amendment, www.changethedistricts.org, CHANGE Illinois! says studies show 77 percent of Illinoisans believe their state government is tainted by widespread corruption. Both the corruption and the perception of it have their roots in a political process that permits the party in power -- and make no mistake, Republicans, despite their newfound indignation, have enjoyed their own mapmaking mischief in the past -- to create districts around incumbency and traditional constituencies.
Illinois citizens will have few opportunities to make so sweeping, so fundamental and so effective an impact on the quality of their government. It's time to get involved in the process now.