Last year in this space, we wrote several times about the need to fix Illinois’ unfair redistricting process.
We supported the failed Illinois Fair Map Amendment petition drive, which would have given the public the chance to vote on state constitutional reforms to ban politicians from drawing their own district lines.
Meanwhile, block-by-block 2010 Census results will be released in several months, and the Democratically controlled Legislature will have total control over the redistricting process. We expect top Democrats and their friends to use it to insulate themselves from voters angry about the 66 percent hike in the state income-tax rate.
That is, unless something out of the ordinary happens. Enter newly inaugurated Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon.
Simon’s presence as a statewide official offers the slim possibility that some type of real redistricting reform could yet happen – if she chooses to take up the challenge.
You see, Simon was one of 15 members of the Illinois Reform Commission in 2009. That group, appointed by Gov. Pat Quinn, called for 12 specific improvements to Illinois’ redistricting system to remove political influence, welcome public input, and create districts that serve the people, not the politicians.
Some of those improvements can be made only through a constitutional amendment.
But others could be incorporated into new legislation if Quinn were to veto the so-called Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act passed by the lame-duck Legislature.
The bill provides the bare minimum of reforms. It calls for four public hearings before the new maps are drawn, but none afterward. It also calls for protection of minority voting rights.
But the bill doesn't go far enough. It should mandate more public hearings.
The state should release all Census data to the public.
Allow people to submit their own suggested redistricting maps, and more – anything to avoid the awful gerrymandered districts that afflicted much of the state since the last remap in 2001.
Quinn supported redistricting reform in the past, and he holds the key this time around. If legislative leaders from his own Democratic Party ignore his calls for reform, Quinn could veto their unfair maps. To us, that would be an incentive for the Legislature to go along with vast improvements to the Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act.
Back to Lt. Gov. Simon. Without the influence of this Reform Commission member and former Southern Illinois University law professor, we’re not sure Quinn would take advantage of the golden opportunity for redistricting reform. A push for redistricting reform would be an important way for Simon to assert herself in the early days of the Quinn-Simon administration. And, it would land an important blow against Illinois’ culture of corruption.
How about it, Lt. Gov. Simon? Use your influence with Gov. Quinn, and push for redistricting reform.
Note to readers: This editorial has been edited from its original version. A suggestion that Gov. Pat Quinn use his amendatory veto powers to make changes to the Redistricting Transparency and Public Participation Act was removed because a new General Assembly has been sworn in and such action would result in the bill being killed, not amended.