A coalition of better-government groups has started an uphill battle for a constitutional amendment to reform redistricting in Illinois.
With a redistricting set to follow the 2010 Census, the groups unveiled an amendment Thursday that would, if successful, take the pen away from the General Assembly and into the hands of an independent commission. The groups, which include the League of Women Voters and the Better Government Association, hope that reform of the way districts are drawn will better reform state government as a whole.
“If you like the politicians choosing the voters by gerrymandering their districts to get re-elected, ignore this,” Better Government Association Executive Director Andy Shaw said. “But if you feel that the voters should choose their legislators in fairly drawn districts, ... this is one of the only ways you can do it.”
The proposed Illinois Fair Map Amendment puts the job of redistricting in the hands of a nine-member commission, none of whom can be a lobbyist, political official or state employee or contractor. It requires the redistricting to be done in open meetings, and gives the duty of breaking a deadlock to the Illinois Supreme Court, rather than the present practice of picking the deciding party out of a hat.
Reforming the redistricting process was one of the recommendations made by the Illinois Reform Commission convened by Gov. Pat Quinn shortly after he became governor, the result of the impeachment and removal of predecessor Rod Blagojevich. Commission member Brad McMillan said the amendment’s framework came from the commission’s proposal, as well as input from reform groups and hearings earlier this year from the Senate Redistricting Committee.
“I think this is a better plan than what we started out with, and I think it’s comprehensive, real reform,” McMillan said.
However, the proposed amendment applies only to General Assembly districts, not the congressional districts likewise drawn by state legislators. Supporters wanted to include them in the amendment, but feared that it would increase the chances of a challenge of the amendment’s constitutionality. The hope is that success would prompt the General Assembly to forward a separate amendment to include congressional redistricting reform, said Jan Czarnik, executive director of the Illinois League of Women Voters.
Supporters realize that a grassroots effort to amend the Illinois Constitution will be difficult – they have about six months to get the 500,000 signatures they say will be needed to get it on the November ballot and survive a challenge. Only one of the 10 successful amendments of the 1970 Constitution was a citizens initiative – the 1980 Cutback Amendment that reduced the House’s size from 177 members to 118.
Voters next November will be presented with a proposed amendment, inspired by Blagojevich’s ouster, to set up a complicated system by which Illinois voters can petition to recall a sitting governor. The amendment’s author, state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, supported redistricting reform as part of the failed effort last year to call a constitutional convention. However, he declined to comment on the proposed amendment until he has a chance to review it.
General Assembly members since January have proposed 38 constitutional amendments, seven of them dealing with redistricting reform. All but Franks’ successful amendment are sitting in the House Rules Committee, where they likely will die with the end of the 96th General Assembly after the 2010 election.
But Shaw said the time was right for reform and people were clamoring for it, prompting a partial reform of Illinois campaign financing and improvements to the state Freedom of Information Act.
“The combination of George Ryan, Rod Blagojevich, the train wreck in Springfield and the problems at the county, city and suburban levels, has truly created the feeling that enough is enough,” Shaw said.
On the Net
You can read about the proposed Illinois Fair Map Amendment, and download petitions, at www.ilfairmap.com.