Editorial: We have 5 weeks to end gerrymandering here
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
We don't put editorials on the front page often.
But time is running out on representative government in Illinois.
May 3 is the magic deadline for both houses of the Illinois General Assembly to agree to put the Fair Maps Amendment on the November referendum ballot.
Hey, you may be thinking, don't we have enough going on with a global pandemic threatening our lives and our economy?
Yes, we certainly can't ignore that twin crisis. And Gov. J.B. Pritzker has done a monumental job focusing on it and on the well-being of all of us. We are both impressed by his public service and indebted to him for it.
But look. We can multi-task. We've fought world wars while also fighting depressions.
And here's the thing:
Either we're a democratic republic or we're not.
And right now, we hate to say, we are not.
In Illinois, we have legislative and congressional district maps that are drawn by politicians.
And we hate to say it, they're not drawn to further democracy. They're not drawn so you decide who your representatives are. They're drawn so the political parties do.
They're drawn, in Illinois, so the Democratic Party does. So that Michael Madigan does.
That's not because Democrats are inherently cynical and self-serving. It's because political parties inherently are.
The first business of any political party is to stay in power. A party may have a foundation of ideals and altruistic impulses, but its first impulse is maintaining and expanding its power.
In some states controlled by Republicans, the GOP draws the maps and decides who gets elected.
Well, we in Illinois can't control what happens in those other states.
But we can in Illinois.
We can do that, though, only if we take that control.
We have to level with you. The prospects to reform Illinois' cynical political tradition of gerrymandering do not look good.
If this reform is to take effect in time to ensure fair legislative and Congressional elections in the 2020s, the politicians, ensconced as they now must be in social distance, have five weeks to allow it to be placed on the November ballot.
Here are the main reasons that probably won't happen:
1. House Speaker Madigan doesn't want it to, and truth be told, most other Democratic Party leaders don't want it to either.
2. Gov. Pritzker doesn't want any competition that might undermine his progressive income tax proposal, which already has been placed on that November ballot.
3. With the novel coronavirus necessarily occupying everyone's attention, it will be virtually impossible to rally the kind of public uproar necessary to force the issue.
So it seems like a lost cause.
But excuse us for being incurable romantics. We embrace the sentiment from the crackling old, "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington," the scene where an exhausted Jimmy Stewart argues that lost causes are "the only causes worth fighting for."
The Fair Maps Amendment would create a 17-member independent commission to draw new districts.
A three-fifths majority of both chambers of the General Assembly would be required to get the measure on the ballot. Voters would have final say.
Reality is, when it comes down to it, one man has the power to move this issue forward. Gov. Pritzker.
We believe the governor to be a good man who wants to do good works. He is preoccupied now by the pandemic that threatens to overwhelm us. That preoccupation is unavoidable.
But we hope he understands that he also can make this reform happen. If he says the word, it can happen.
Say it, Governor.
Uphill battle or not, long odds or not, COVID-19 threat or not, this matters.
Time is running out. Representative democracy is at stake.