The effort to curtail power politics is not over.
The organizations Yes for Independent Maps and CHANGE Illinois! started a drive to change how Illinois sets political boundaries seven years early knowing there could be setbacks. Not only did they face the monumental demands of steering any citizens initiative onto the statewide ballot, they also knew well that the entrenched political forces who have everything to lose from a fair redistricting system would do all they could to stop them. Now, they've lost the first skirmish. A Cook County judge has ruled that certain aspects of their proposal don't measure up to strict interpretations of what it takes to amend the Illinois Constitution. Rather than surrender more time to court battles and facing a simultaneous challenge to the validity of their petitions, organizers have shut down the amendment drive.
"We will put the lessons learned in this campaign and from the judge's ruling to good use," wrote Deborah Harrington, chairwoman of Yes for Independent Maps. "This experience will make us better prepared to win the next campaign to give voters an opportunity to have a voice in the redistricting process."
That next campaign can target the next statewide general election in 2016, and we trust organizers already are finished licking their wounds from this fight and are preparing for the next one.
They start with at least two important lessons. One, how critical it is to monitor every signature and every aspect of the petition-gathering process. Two, some direction for substantive changes in their proposal that could address the constitutional weakness that Circuit Judge Mary Mikva perceived. Mikva found that the group's requirement that redistricting commission members wait 10 years before being eligible to run for public office changes the qualifications for office and cannot be allowed. Addressing that point will give the next effort an early boost.
An ancillary effect of this entire experience has been to reinforce the hostility of the Constitution toward citizen initiatives. As this effort and an unrelated drive for a term limits amendment that also was set back by Mikva's ruling show, Illinois' Constitution provides citizens far too little capacity to challenge their lawmakers or produce meaningful change in government. That needs to be rectified. In the meantime, the only hopes for fighting a redistricting process that enables legislative leaders to consolidate and extend their own power rests with lawmakers themselves -- fat chance of that, of course -- or with the next assault by citizens.
This one made a good run. Even in failing, it acquired critical lessons for making a new drive successful. Citizens have until the next decennial census in 2020 to get a new system in place. Obviously, they may need every minute. We stand ready to support them however long it takes.