Republican legislative leaders pushed for Illinois to change how it draws political boundaries Thursday during a Chicago luncheon that also highlighted other political reform issues including term limits, scrutiny of campaign fundraising and so-called lame-duck sessions after an election.
The support for a signature-driven ballot initiative to leave redistricting in the hands of an independent commission -- if it survives scrutiny by election officials and a lawsuit -- could evolve into a major issue for the GOP ahead of November's high-stakes election where Gov. Pat Quinn is facing a difficult challenge from Republican businessman Bruce Rauner.
"The single most important reform that we could do in this state is one we have not done yet, that is changing the mapping process," Republican Senate Leader Christine Radogno said during the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform's lunch event where leaders outlined priorities.
Senate President John Cullerton, a Chicago Democrat, told reporters he hadn't looked closely at the potential ballot initiative. But he questioned past congressional mapping processes, namely in 2001 when Republicans held the governor's office and state Senate. Then, U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert led efforts to come up with a plan that largely protected incumbents.
Illinois' once-a-decade redistricting process has long faced allegations of gerrymandering. The maps are based on census data, but lawmakers make them. In 2011, Republicans sued over the congressional map, which judges later determined was a "blatant political move" to increase Democratic seats. But the map was implemented anyway.
The redistricting ballot initiative in Illinois has hit a snag.
Last month, the group "Yes! for Independent Maps" submitted over 500,000 signatures to the State Board of Elections, but an initial review found many invalid signatures. Radogno and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin have asked election officials for an extension to verify signatures.
The measure could be one of a potential record-number of voter initiatives come November. Another calls for term limits and is led by Rauner. Both the redistricting and term limits attempts are the subject of a lawsuit filed by an election lawyer who's represented top Democrats.
Durkin and Radogno said they supported the term limits measure with Radogno pointing to House Speaker Michael Madigan, who recently became the longest-serving House speaker nationwide. The Chicago Democrat didn't attend Thursday's event.
Cullerton disagreed with the term limits proposal.
He said it takes lawmakers time to understand their jobs and institutional knowledge could be lost.
"If we weren't doing our job, we wouldn't be re-elected," he said, calling the term limit efforts "misguided."
He said one of the important political reform issues should be more scrutiny on fundraising linked to certain types of nonprofit organizations.
Durkin said Illinois should overhaul how it conducts lame-duck sessions when exiting lawmakers are more willing to take difficult or controversial votes, an idea he tried to push during the latest legislative session but didn't get any traction. He highlighted how lawmakers approved a 67 percent temporary income tax increase the final moments of a 2011 session.
"I would hope that we would at some point realize that this is not the best point to govern," he said.