Editorial: Voters are last hope for regaining control of legislature
It takes an iron stomach and a steadfast aversion to cynicism to reflect on the Illinois Supreme Court's ruling last week effectively ending the possibility of a citizen initiative to bring fairness to the way state representatives and senators are elected. Now, it will take an iron will and a relentless commitment from Illinois voters to do the job. But it can be done. Indeed, it must.
At issue was a plan that would ask voters whether to create a commission to redraw legislative boundaries every 10 years rather than adhere to the present system, which essentially grants that right to the political party in control of the legislature. The system has led to three decades of virtual one-party rule in the Illinois General Assembly, and near elimination of competition for party positions in primaries.
Last spring, only two of the 39 Democratic incumbents and only two of 20 Republicans faced primary challenges for the state Senate. Just nine of the 71 Democratic incumbents faced a challenge in the House. Of the 47 House Republican incumbents, just four faced challenges.
That is not democracy, and the Independent Map Amendment drive sought to change it with a strongly bipartisan proposal that had been carefully crafted by teams of lawyers to meet a previous court's reservations and was signed by more than a half-million Illinois citizens.
But the four Democratic members of the Supreme Court closed ranks with powerful Democratic legislative leaders to declare that because the Independent Map Amendment proposal gave some duties to the state auditor general, something which is not specifically referenced in the language of the state Constitution, the proposal is inadequate and voters should not have the option to consider it.
In the iron-stomach department, try to overlook that the majority opinion was written by Justice Thomas Kilbride, who had been given $1.4 million by House Speaker Michael Madigan for his 2010 re-election bid. Try to overlook that the group fighting the proposal in court was made up of a Who's Who of Illinois Democratic insiders, was represented in court by a Madigan ally and says it managed its expensive court battle without receiving a single dime required for disclosure to the state Board of Elections.
In the aversion to cynicism department, try not to laugh at Kilbride's declaration that "the constitutional confines … are sufficiently broad to encompass more than one potential redistricting scheme." Instead, concentrate on the reality expressed by dissenting Justice Robert Thomas, who bristled that the majority opinion "irrevocably severed a vital lifeline ... against self-interest by the legislature."
That's a chilling commentary. But it is not terminal. For, we still can affect the self-interest of lawmakers.
There is nothing to prohibit a legislative move to put redistricting on the 2018 ballot -- the next opportunity for consideration of an amendment before the 2020 census. So far, cowardly lawmakers have been satisfied to hide behind the audacity of the House speaker and let citizen volunteers do the heavy lifting. Voters must disrupt their comfort.
For the past three years, numerous legislators have expressed support for drives to change redistricting in Illinois. More than 560,000 citizens signed this movement's petitions seeking a referendum on the issue. Few issues in the state have attracted such broad, deep and passionate support.
The Independent Map Amendment drive and that of its predecessor lost in court, but the efforts were not in vain. They demonstrated clearly how the current system of redistricting is responsible for many of the political problems facing our crippled state, they showed that there is a reasonable, practical way out and they awakened the passions of hundreds of thousands of hopeful citizens.
Now, it's time for elected leaders to come out of the shadows and bow, for a change, to the demands of those citizens, rather than the orders of entrenched political leaders. Forcing them to act is the voters' only option -- but it is assuredly a powerful one.