Daily Herald opinion: Campaigns expose specific examples of folly of partisan political boundaries

This editorial is the consensus opinion of the Daily Herald Editorial Board

The run-up to the Nov. 8 election serves as a reminder of the need for redistricting reform to put an end to political gerrymandering in Illinois.

"The Fair Maps Amendment," a bipartisan proposal that would have put the question of an independent map commission on the November 2020 ballot, didn't get a vote in the General Assembly by a May 3 deadline because of the pandemic disruption that spring.

Powerful party chairman and House Speaker Mike Madigan always opposed it, but his resignation in disgrace in early 2021 over the ComEd bribery scandal opened the door again. Yet new Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch, Gov. J.B. Pritzker and other Democratic lawmakers who previously supported an independent commission kept the remap process in partisan hands.

The result will be felt through 2030, the year of the next census.

The issue of fair maps came up in a recent endorsement interview a representative of our editorial board conducted with the candidates in the 69th state House District. Where is the 69th state House District, you ask? That's a good question, because it was never part of the Daily Herald coverage area before.

Rockford Republican Joe Sosnowski has represented the district since 2011. When he was first elected, his district covered parts of Boone and Winnebago counties, curving in the path of a reverse "C" from Woodcrest in the south to Belvidere in the east to Rockton in the north.

Now, the boundaries have shifted dramatically to the east, leaving out large swaths of Belvidere but stretching to Richmond, Huntley and Lake in the Hills.

Both Sosnowski and his challenger, Marengo Democrat Peter Janko, support fair maps.

Janko lived in the 63rd state House District until the remap, and he has seen his congressional district change radically as well. In 2018, he was elected as a Democratic state central committeeman for the 14th Congressional District. In 2022, post-remap, he was elected as a Democratic state central committeeman for the 11th Congressional District.

How the Illinois congressional districts were redrawn truly is confounding.

To wit, the 14th District, represented by Naperville Democrat Lauren Underwood, used to form a large "C" in parts of DuPage, Kane, McHenry and Lake counties. Now, the district's northeastern edge is near Lemont, and it sprawls west through parts of Kane, Will, DeKalb, Kendall, LaSalle, Bureau and Putnam counties - barely in the Daily Herald's coverage area.

The 11th District, represented by Democrat Bill Foster, previously had Naperville and Aurora at its northern border. Now, the 11th's territory is largely what the 14th's was.

Even maps drawn in a non-partisan system could create dramatic boundary changes, of course, but at least they wouldn't have the added sting of knowing they were done just to help or hurt one party or the other rather than to truly represent the interests of voters from a specific region.

In May 2021, the Democrats released their remap plan after business hours on a Friday. That's a maneuver known as "throwing it out with the trash" - scheduling an unpopular announcement to ensure it won't get scrutiny for days.

"Trash" also is an apt assessment of the entire partisan redistricting process.

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