Editorial: Governor, lawmakers, it's time to put up, not shut up, on 'Fair Maps'

  • Lawmakers have only until May 3 to put a question on the November ballot so Illinoisans can have a say in how legislative boundaries are set.

    Lawmakers have only until May 3 to put a question on the November ballot so Illinoisans can have a say in how legislative boundaries are set. Daily Herald File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/2/2020 1:00 AM

On Tuesday, we focused attention on one issue, ethics reform, that ought to be an easily accomplished legislative priority but has proved to be disturbingly difficult. Today, let's look at another, redistricting reform.

As with matters of ethics, abuses of the present system for drawing legislative boundaries in Illinois are well documented and all but universally lamented. As with ethics and corruption, Illinoisans overwhelmingly support change to address these abuses.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As with ethics and corruption, legislative leaders have been outwardly quick to decry the status quo but deliberately slow to adopt a solution. Indeed, at times, to their shame, they've actively worked against two prior citizen initiatives this decade that tried to produce a fair system for creating legislative districts.

But now, we can permit them to dawdle and dissemble no longer. If lawmakers don't act by May 3 to let voters have a say regarding a "fair maps" constitutional amendment, the window for change will have closed. Entrenched politicians will be allowed to create legislative districts in 2021 that reflect their personal political interests rather than the interests of local voters, and it will be at least another decade before voters will have a chance to challenge their grip on power.

Illinois Sen. Julie Morrison, a Deerfield Democrat, and Rep. Ryan Spain, a Peoria Republican, have sponsored legislation called "The Fair Maps Amendment" that forms the foundation for a transparent redistricting process independent of the political maneuvering that has produced the current mystifying jigsaw puzzle of legislative boundary lines. It would put a truly bipartisan, demographically diverse commission in charge of creating maps that do what the Illinois and U.S. constitutions intend in the call to redraw legislative boundaries reflecting population changes identified in the decennial census -- assure that the interests of all people in the state get fair, equal and open representation.

Details of the plan are at the website for CHANGE Illinois, https://www.changeil.org, a non-partisan foundation promoting a Fair Maps amendment.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker is pivotal to the effort, too, and it is time for him to put the weight of his office behind the effort. In the past, he has expressed support for more fairness in drawing legislative boundaries. Without his prestige and influence, voters must rely solely on the combined voices of their local lawmakers to budge the new Senate president and intransigent House Speaker Michael Madigan.

The urgency of advancing the legislation cannot be overstated, if only in terms of defending democracy. For, despite its widespread popularity, placing the "Fair Maps" question on the ballot is no guarantee of a change in the constitution. It is a guarantee only that the issue will be debated and the people of Illinois will have the chance to vote on it. They deserve that much, at least.

For much of the past decade, however, powerful interests have done all in their power to forestall the debate and to prevent giving the people a voice. Now, Illinoisans who cherish their right to be heard must bring all the pressure they can on local lawmakers as well as state leaders to produce action. They must demand individuals seeking legislative seats or a return to their seats in the March 17 primary take a clear and unequivocal position on the Fair Maps vote.

It took lawmakers only a matter of weeks to create a controversial array of new taxes and fix a vote on a constitutional amendment to change how citizens are taxed. It is an utter disgrace that after years of outcry, they still have not permitted a vote on a matter that surveys show more than 70 percent of the state's voters want.

Don't let it continue. Insist your senators and representatives support a Fair Maps vote. Insist that they demand their leaders allow them to vote on putting the question on the November ballot. Demand the governor get involved. There is no more time for excuses or delay. Lawmakers who cannot stand for this important issue, indeed who will not fight for it, speak volumes about how sincerely they respect your right of free expression. Let them know you'll act on what they say.

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