Editorial: Democrats appear set to betray citizens on fair legislative maps

  • In the spring of 2020, a host of Illinois lawmakers stood with Madeleine Doubek, center, of CHANGE Illinois to boast their support for a Fair Maps Amendment. As maps are now being drawn, they seem nowhere to be found.

    In the spring of 2020, a host of Illinois lawmakers stood with Madeleine Doubek, center, of CHANGE Illinois to boast their support for a Fair Maps Amendment. As maps are now being drawn, they seem nowhere to be found. Daily Herald File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 5/6/2021 10:03 PM

As we monitor the progress, if that's the word, of legislative and congressional redistricting in Illinois, it is difficult for us to describe the depths of our disappointment in legislative leaders, the governor and, especially, suburban Democrats who have been outspoken and influential in the process in the past.

Redistricting, or creating legislative boundaries, is important. It will determine the distribution of power in Illinois for the next 10 years. As Grayslake Democrat Sen. Melinda Bush wrote in an op-ed for the Daily Herald last year, the current process "only benefit(s) the party in power ... strip(s) the minority party of any agency ... (and) contribute(s) to the extreme partisan polarization of our entire political system."

 

The Mike Madigan-led Democratic Party, the party firmly in power in Illinois, previously scuttled any efforts to modify the system until it was too late for voters -- who overwhelmingly supported change -- to insist on it.

Now, despite new leadership, legislative Democrats appear determined to draw redistricting maps behind closed doors and use their majorities to muscle them through in closely guarded secrecy.

And suddenly, no one in their party seems inclined to stop them.

Not Madigan's successor, Speaker Emmanuel "Chris" Welch of Hillside, who previously strongly supported creation of an independent commission to draw the maps. Not Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who likewise formerly called for an independent commission but has recently walked back his position. And not any of the suburban Democrats who previously crowed their support for change -- including on the Senate side, Bush, Laura Ellman of Naperville, Laura Fine of Glenview, Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, Suzanne Gowiak-Hilton of Western Springs, Julie Morrison of Deerfield and Laura Murphy of Des Plaines and on the House side, Terra Costa Howard of Glen Ellyn, Joyce Mason of Gurnee, Bob Morgan of Deerfield, Anne Stava-Murray of Naperville and others.

All of them are hiding behind the problematic but convenient combination of a delayed U.S. Census and a state constitutional deadline requiring maps to be drawn by June 30. After that date, "the party in power" loses control and a specific process is defined that ultimately could result in drawing a name from a hat to determine which party gets it.

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Democrats plead that they can't create an independent commission to draw the maps by the deadline and because of the census delay, they'll have to use whatever population data they can find to draw the maps. They say they've been transparent because they talked to people before they started. They promise to be "fair," a term that will be subject to their sole definition.

But in truth, their hands are not tied. They have a number of acceptable, if imperfect, options, but any meager attempts to impose them have been summarily dismissed without much protest -- including an ill-fated proposal by Bush and good-government lobby CHANGE Illinois to at least inject some transparency into the process.

This week, Welch defended his apparent change of heart with a feeble vow that he "is making sure that maps are put together where minorities are represented, where we reflect the great diversity of the state, where we respect 'one person, one vote'."

In other words, "fair" will be defined however he and Democrats define it. And, to us and long-suffering Illinois voters who have clamored for something better, that assessment has the pitiful resonance of not just political chicanery but outright betrayal.

That ought not be enough for honorable men and women in the Illinois legislature. It ought not be enough for the suburban lawmakers who have touted their insistence on true fairness. It certainly is not enough for Illinois citizens. It certainly is not enough for us.

And it certainly will not be forgotten.

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