While progressives across the country have suggested ending gerrymandering is a cause of those whose politics lean left, the recent reality in Illinois is Republicans have been outspoken against questionable legislative boundaries and cut off at every turn by the Democrats entrenched in power.
Sure, Chicago Democrat Pat Quinn was a long-standing crusader for nonpartisan political maps, but when he ascended into the governor’s mansion, he quickly and quietly acceded to the will of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who supervised the maps resulting from the 2010 Census. The result of those maps was a weakened GOP congressional delegation as well as stronger majorities in the Illinois House and Senate.
When former Gov. Bruce Rauner wrangled control of the Illinois Republican Party earlier this decade, one of the planks in his Turnaround Agenda was establishing a nonpartisan commission to draw the maps. For the better part of 10 years, a coalition now known as CHANGE Illinois has been banging the drum for new mapping rules, among other reforms, including several failed attempts at getting a constitutional amendment placed on a statewide ballot.
But neither the former governor nor the coalition could outfox the cagey Democrats who pull the statehouse strings, nor overcome the legal roadblocks the state Supreme Court identified. And so despite hundreds of thousands of petition signatures and hundreds of millions of Rauner’s campaign cash, nothing really has changed as we barrel toward the 2020 Census, the loss of yet another congressional seat and Democrats aligning things in a way that sets up another decade of elected officials choosing their constituents instead of the other way around.
To be clear: Illinois Republicans have used the same powers when given the opportunity, they just haven’t had the chance recently enough. But just because reform might give the GOP a fairer shake at a future ballot box doesn’t mean the proposed changes are bad ideas.
We oppose gerrymandering no matter who is stacking the deck, and we need to look no further than Wisconsin to find evidence of Republicans manipulating lines such that Democrats won 53 percent of all votes cast for the State Assembly but ended up with only 36 percent of the seats.
Still, there is hope in Illinois. Earlier this month, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, filed House Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 10, which would create an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission that would propose maps, have public hearings before and after releasing the proposal and could only advance to the General Assembly if seven commissioners approve. If the commission should fail, top state Supreme Court justices would appoint a special redistricting commissioner with a tight deadline.
There are two reasons for optimism. First, the movement is coming from inside the House, which already gives it a leg up on resident petition efforts. (Reforming that process to give laypeople better ballot access is crucial, but a different fight.) And second, new Gov. J.B. Pritzker has been on the record supporting a move to a nonpartisan mapping process as a means of restoring faith in government.
The entire House Republican caucus is behind HJRCA 10, and we encourage Democrats to join them, urge the governor to live up to his billing as a reformer and remember the clock is ticking because the census takes place next year.
Is the proposed commission the best way to draw maps? Would nonpartisan maps really ensure the will of the people is equitably represented in Springfield and on Capitol Hill? It’s far too early to say at this point. But what we can say is that the actual people of Illinois, not the political power brokers, deserve the chance to answer the question for themselves. That opportunity has been denied for far too long.
Put the amendment on the ballot, and then we all can evaluate it on its merits. Because depriving voters of their voice – again – would be a bad look for Pritzker as he tries to get his new agenda off the ground.