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posted: 12/26/2013 5:00 AM

Redistricting reform: Stop the not-so-silent killer of democracy in Illinois

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The Daily Herald Editorial Board

In the coming year, you -- yes, you personally, not your state representative or your senator or your union or your PAC or any other surrogate, but you yourself -- have the opportunity to participate in a movement that can change the face of Illinois government more than any other issue. More than addressing the pension crisis, more than increasing or lowering taxes, more than fixing Medicaid fraud, more than adjusting the state's spending habits. More than any Illinois political issue you can name, because every such issue you can name has roots in this one.

The subject? Redistricting, the drawing of boundaries for House and Senate legislative districts in Illinois.

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The term redistricting may not immediately create the blood-boiling sensation of, say, waste or fraud or many other emotion-packed words, but it should. In fact, it should outstrip them all for chest-thumping outrage, if for no other reason than the fact that it has been the not-so-silent killer of democracy in Illinois for more than a century.

Practically from the beginning of statehood, politicians have used their power to draw legislative boundaries to entrench their power. Thus, the decision making on every issue is tilted from the outset to the advantage of whatever political party can seize control of the redistricting mechanism.

In a 2009 report commissioned by Gov. Pat Quinn, the Illinois Reform Commission declared that the state's system for drawing boundaries "places Illinois voters in direct conflict with the legislators who are supposed to represent them," and two years later, as if to certify that conclusion, the Democratic Party-controlled legislature drew a contorted set of political boundaries that helped secure veto-proof majorities in both houses. Party leaders at the time called their mapmaking the "most transparent, accountable, open redistricting process in the history of this state" -- a chilling assessment considering that the maps were approved along entirely partisan lines less than 48 hours after they were unveiled and they followed the legislature and governor's blunt disregard for reforms pushed by the IRC.

Nor is this merely a Democrat-vs.-Republican issue. Some Republican legislative leaders themselves acknowledge that one reason GOP lawmakers have been slow to join the movement for reform of the state's redistricting process is that they've enjoyed it when, as in the 1990s, they've had the opportunity to maneuver the levers of power to their party's advantage.

In an official 1987 -- yes, 1987 -- analysis, then-Governors State University political professor Paul M. Green wrote that "Legislative redistricting remains the most political act in Illinois politics. Neither reform and revision, nor pressure and publicity, have made this mandated constitutional procedure more democratic or efficient. Partisan advantage is still the name of the game ..."

More than 25 years later -- our state now ranked by report after report as one of the most corrupt in the union -- we still tolerate this? We should be ashamed of ourselves. But we don't have to any longer. Building on the work of the IRC, a new initiative called Yes for Independent Maps is under way to get a constitutional amendment on the November 2014 ballot taking the process of political mapmaking out of the hands of the politicians who benefit from it and putting it into the hands of the voters.

In editorials that follow on Friday, Sunday and Tuesday, the Daily Herald editorial board examines the proposal, first as it relates to successful remapping efforts in other states and then for the critical fundamental reforms it can bring to Illinois government. We urge your support. We urge your involvement. We hope to help on both counts, now and throughout the coming year.

In December 2011, we solemnly declared, "If we love liberty, we must take the remapping process out of the hands of politicians." The mechanics for such removal have been set in motion. Politicians are not about to help; in fact, they've shown they will act to thwart the effort if they can. Citizens must, and can, take control. Now is our time.

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