Editorial: Keep the pressure on leaders who are blocking a vote on fair maps
It is hard to think of an example in Illinois where government is more at odds with the will of the people than on election reform.
Minimum wage, graduated income tax, welfare reform, abortion. They all have their advocates, yet they all face energetic debate and sizable constituencies on both sides. But election reform? Specifically changing the way political boundaries are drawn? Here, polls have found nearly three-fourths of Illinoisans want a change, want it badly and have wanted it for years. Nearly 600,000 state residents signed petitions to try to get the issue on the ballot in 2016. Public policy groups as divergent as the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the NAACP Chicago ... AARP Illinois and the Illinois Farm Bureau ... the Better Government Association and the Illinois League of Women Voters ... these and many more have all endorsed a call to change the state's political cartography to stop political power brokers from rigging the system to thwart the integrity of the democratic process.
Lawmakers themselves overwhelmingly favor the notion of drawing "fair maps" every 10 years that give voters, rather than politicians, control of defining how communities of interest are determined and how lawmakers will be selected. Yet, here we are. Heading into the stretch of another legislative session with a great piece of reform on the table and a very real chance that lawmakers won't even get to discuss it, let alone vote on it.
This is a travesty. House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton share the responsibility. A year ago, Illinois found itself in precisely the same position. A proposed constitutional amendment introduced with broad and deep bipartisan support was bottled up by the legislative leaders, so lawmakers never got to -- or had to -- make a firm public stand.
We are perhaps most disappointed in Cullerton on this point. He has often been the voice of reason and compromise on matters as important as pension reform and budgeting. That he won't allow the legislation -- this year's version of a constitutional amendment is SJRCA 4 and has 36 co-sponsors from both parties -- to move out of the Assignments committee is deeply troubling and a real slap in the face to voters.
But Cullerton is not culpable alone. The members of his party and all those co-sponsors, many of them from the suburbs, ought to be demanding that he allow them to demonstrate the support they've been professing for years for this popular legislation. Voters who have been clamoring for this chance should be demanding that their lawmakers put on the pressure.
And Gov. J.B. Pritzker himself, who has expressed his own reservations about the present system of drawing legislative boundaries and promised never to sign a gerrymandered legislative map, is surely in a position to move Cullerton and Madigan alike to quit blocking a drive that promotes democracy and that the people of the state clearly want.
Time is running short. If this doesn't make the November 2020 election, Democrats in Illinois will control the political maps for another decade, with no restraint on their abuse of power -- an abuse, to be sure, that fuels Republicans in charge of similar mapmaking in other states -- beyond the promise of a Democratic governor to reject whatever qualifies for gerrymandering in his mind.
That is not enough. The public's will to discuss and vote on a fairer, more independent redistricting process is unquestioned. Three individuals stand in the way. If they won't of their own volition step aside to let the process play out, we and our lawmakers must keep raising our voices until our demands overwhelm their obstruction.