Editorial Roundup: Illinois

 
 
Updated 8/31/2021 12:29 PM

Chicago Tribune. August 24, 2021.

Editorial: The Illinois legislative remap, aka Democrats' incumbent protection plan

 

It's never surprising when politicians say one thing and do another. It's also never surprising when politicians put their own interests above the interests of everyday people.

That's the case with Democrats, and the pledges they made on the campaign trail that they would carry out legislative remapping that was nonpartisan, transparent and fair. Gov. J.B. Pritzker made the same commitment during the 2018 campaign, vowing to veto any redistricting process that was partisan.

Then, earlier this year, they reneged on the voters of Illinois. Democrats huddled in a secret room in the Capitol complex, relied on incomplete numbers from the U.S. Census' American Community Survey program, and rushed to Pritzker's desk a legislative remap aimed solely at solidifying Democrats' stranglehold on the General Assembly.

The new map is anything but fair and nonpartisan. In some cases, boundaries were recast to toss GOP incumbents into the same district, forcing them to run against each other in the primary. One candidate would be eliminated - the other would go into the general election with depleted campaign funds and resources.

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Pritzker signed the remap into law, exposing his campaign pledge for what it was - empty rhetoric.

Republicans called the backroom gerrymandering unconstitutional. But Democrats, who control the House, Senate and governor's office, exuded a 'what-me-worry' confidence about their actions. 'We are not going to abandon our constitutional responsibility, period,' Illinois House Speaker Emanuel 'Chris' Welch said in late May. 'We are not going to let Republicans gridlock the process, solely for political gain. It's not going to happen. Not here. Period.'

Now Democrats find themselves hemming and hawing about their handling of the remap - a process rushed through solely to maximize political power and reliant on demonstrably flawed population estimates. Recently released 2020 U.S. Census data show enough of a difference between the ACS estimates and actual population statistics to warrant a revisiting of the remap process.

Welch and Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, have asked lawmakers to return to Springfield on Aug. 31 for a one-day special session to amend the legislative map Pritzker endorsed in June. A series of public hearings will be held before the end of the month on the issue of remap revisions.

Democrats are trying to explain away this development as a minor hiccup. The Democrat-engineered remap Pritzker signed in June was 'drawn with the best data available at the time,' said Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, chair of the Illinois Senate Redistricting Committee. 'Now that the long-awaited census data has arrived, we will make adjustments as needed.'

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

But it's not a minor hiccup. What Aquino and his fellow Democrats conveniently forget is that the once-every-10-years redistricting exercise has the aim of empowering people to choose their politicians, rather than the other way around.

Remaps are crucial to governance at every level - federal, state, county, local. They define the superstructure for so much governmental decision-making - everything from taxation and education policies to infrastructure priorities. And remaps can, if done in a nonpartisan way, establish a bulwark against one-party rule.

That is, unless one party hijacks the redistricting process, as the Democrats did in 2011 and as they did once more this spring. When that happens, voters lose trust in politics and politicians. Remaps should be steppingstones for voters to exercise the new clout that population changes can bring. They shouldn't be turned into partisan bludgeons that perpetuate the dominance of one party over another.

Will this dynamic ever change? It can, if voters speak up. Voters can take part in upcoming Redistricting Committee public hearings and call for the shelving of the current, partisan remap and the adoption of a fair, transparent, nonpartisan legislative map. Here's a link for those hearings.

They can also call for something else.

For years we have urged lawmakers to put on the ballot a referendum asking voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution that overhauls redistricting in Illinois. If enacted, it would bring an end to what we call the 'incumbent protection plan,' the current setup that corrodes politics in Illinois and undermines voters' say. Passage of the amendment would create an independent citizens commission that would oversee the decennial remap process, and ensure it happens transparently.

The interests of voters would supersede the interests of politicians. That's certainly not the case now. But it should be.

___

Chicago Sun-Times. August 29, 2021.

Editorial: Welcoming Afghan refugees to a city built on sheltering people from the storm

Chicago, perhaps more than any other big American city, can make this work. We've been through this before, time and again.

Some 500 new refugees from Afghanistan are expected to be resettled in Chicago, and we welcome them. Our nation owes them this chance at a new and safe life and, if history is the best judge, they will only make our city stronger.

It won't be easy. It never is. There will be practical challenges, such as finding adequate housing, employment and health care. There will be cultural clashes with respect to how to dress, how to worship and how to raise children. There will be grieving for what's been lost and a wariness toward all that's new and strange.

Yet Chicago, as much and perhaps more than any other big American city, can make this work. We've been through this before, time and again. We are famously a city of immigrants, and many of those immigrants, like the Afghans headed our way now, have been refugees fleeing war and reprisals and sometimes certain death.

We think about that every time we get a Vietnamese banh mi sandwich on Argyle Street, in the heart of one of Chicago's most vibrant immigrant communities.

WEATHERING THE BACKLASH

Americans were at first reluctant to welcome refugees from Vietnam after the fall of Saigon in 1975, as the Los Angeles Times reminded us in a recent editorial, but President Gerald Ford shamed Congress into meeting its obligation to these allies of the American cause in that ill-conceived war. Congress passed the Indochina Migration and Refugee Assistance Act of 1975, leading to the prompt resettlement of 130,000 Vietnamese refugees.

There is almost always a backlash when the United States opens its doors to new refugees, but the great majority of Americans this time around appear to appreciate our nation's moral obligation. Polls show that more than 80% of Americans support the U.S. taking in Afghan refugees, understanding that our nation cannot abandon those who risked their lives for us as translators, intelligence sources and drivers.

There are the usual fear-mongering outliers, of course, such as the most recent former president. Where we see refugees, they see dangerous foreigners, even 'terrorists.' They claim inaccurately that nobody is being vetted.

But most Americans get it. They understand, in the words of the military motto, that we should 'leave no man behind.'

CONGRESS CAN EASE THE WAY

Tens of thousands of Afghan refugees are to be resettled in the United States, after being processed at military bases around the country, including Fort McCoy in Wisconsin. Most of them will be holders of Special Immigrant Visas, which go to refugees who were wartime allies of the United States.

This will make them eligible for a host of public benefits and resettlement services such as Medicaid, SNAP benefits, help in finding work and English language classes.

A smaller group of Afghan refugees, however, will be classified only as 'humanitarian parolees,' typically because they worked for the U.S. military in Afghanistan for less than the two years necessary to qualify for a Special Immigrant Visa. They are not eligible for the same level of public assistance, and local resettlement agencies, such as RefugeeOne in Chicago, may not receive federal funding for the services they provide them.

'We will have to rely on the generosity of our community to help these Afghans recover from their trauma, apply for asylum and begin to rebuild their lives in the U.S.,' Jims Porter, communications and advocacy manager for RefugeeOne, told us.

We support a call for Congress to pass legislation that gives refugees of all status, including humanitarian parolees, access to affordable housing, jobs and federal safety net programs such as SNAP and Medicaid. A coalition of more than 25 organizations in Illinois that serve refugees, including RefugeeOne, is expected to push for this, among other priorities, at a news conference this Monday morning.

GROWING NUMBER OF REFUGESS

More refugees from all over the world, not just Afghanistan, have begun to arrive in the United States in recent months, as a result of President Joe Biden's decision in May to lift the annual U.S. cap on refugees to 62,500, a quadrupling of the Trump administration's 15,000 cap. Inevitably now, we'll see a growing backlash by Americans who fear the newcomers do not share our nation's values and will not sufficiently assimilate.

Those are not unwarranted concerns. We don't take lightly those Western and American values, such as democracy, free speech, religious freedom and the full rights of women, that are not readily embraced in much of the world.

But we are at our best as Americans, living up to our nation's best ideals, when our first impulse is to make a place for those seeking shelter from the storm.

___

Champaign News-Gazette. August 27, 2021.

Editorial: There's a lesson to learn from state's shameful act

The community has seen - once again - that sunlight is the best disinfectant.

It didn't take long for the powers that be to fall on their sword after the bullying tactics they used against a local physician were made public.

After all, what choice did they have? Their conduct was so out of bounds, such a gross and obnoxious abuse of power, so completely indefensible that it could not stand the light of day.

As a consequence, the state's pending investigation of Mahomet-Seymour school board member Jeremy Henrichs, a Carle Health sports-medicine physician, is no longer pending.

'The Pritzker administration has not and will not seek disciplinary action against the professional licenses of individuals who disagree with the mask mandate,' said a spokesman for the governor. 'Any suggestion to the contrary is baseless and misleading rumor-mongering.'

Actually, what's baseless is the Pritzker administration's statement. The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation clearly opened an investigation into Henrichs' professional standing after receiving a complaint that he is not supportive of the governor's mask mandate for everyone in K-12 schools.

Says who? Says the department in its written inquiry to Henrichs regarding his opinion on the mask mandate.

'This would fall under the unprofessional-conduct part of the Medical Practice Act. What the medical disciplinary board wants to know is if the doctor will support and enforce the mask mandate by the governor,' a department investigator wrote to Henrichs.

Henrichs certainly had no difficulty determining the department's message. He concluded - based on the clear language of the inquiry - that the department 'has commanded me to toe the line or suffer personal and professional consequences.'

Pritzker's mask mandate, one prompted by an increase in coronavirus cases, has been controversial statewide. A number of school boards are resisting, but Mahomet-Seymour is not one of them.

So what was the problem from the state's point of view? It received a complaint that Henrichs is not a supporter of the mask mandate. He, like many medical professionals, questions its wisdom.

That's his opinion. That's his right. Others disagree. That's their right. This is, after all, America, a place where people are entitled to think for themselves and reach their own conclusions.

Someone in the Mahomet-Seymour school community apparently was distressed by Henrichs' personal position, decided to make an issue of it and filed a complaint with the state.

Wastebaskets - also known as the round file - were invented to handle complaints like this. Any thinking state employee should know that one person's complaint about another person's personal opinion is not proper grist for the state's investigative mill.

But remember this: Mindless bureaucrats are as big a threat to personal freedom as other more sophisticated opponents of a free society.

Consequently, state bureaucrats acted in this case as they are wont to do - thoughtlessly, stupidly and, most of all, dangerously. It's because the probe was so thoughtless, stupid and dangerous that it didn't get far.

But that's no reason to forget what happened or write it off as nothing of significance.

State officials threatened a physician's professional standing because they were told he holds an opinion - a thought, a personal view - that the governor finds unacceptable.

However one feels about the wisdom of Pritzker's mask mandate, everyone who values freedom of thought - one of the fundamental concepts on which this nation was founded - should find that abhorrent.

END

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