** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, JUNE 25 ** The Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., shown Wednesday, June 21, 2006, measures 361 feet to the top of its familiar dome. The neck-bending skyscrapers that pack Chicago's fabled skyline are little more than scaled-down miniatures in downstate cities, where even the tallest buildings are at least three times shorter than the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center. (AP Photo/Seth Perlman) ORG XMIT: ILSP302
Updated: November 8, 2013 6:10AM
Candidates for big political jobs in Illinois like to say they’re running for office against Springfield. It’s a good applause line for voters weary of politics as usual, which would be most of us.
So we have a suggestion for this year’s crop: Run against Springfield.
And here, specifically, is how you can do it: Announce your public support for the Illinois Redistricting Amendment.
The proposed constitutional amendment is designed to stop politicians from putting their own interests first when they draw up new maps of legislative districts every 10 years. Instead, an 11-member commission would draw the boundaries, putting the interests of the the voters first. A petition drive is underway to put the amendment on the November 2014 ballot.
We can’t think of a better way for a candidate to stand up for the common man, and so of course you’d expect them all to outshout each other in support of the idea.
But so far we haven’t heard much. In fact, it’s been quiet as a tomb or — more frightening — quiet as one of those infamous back rooms where the whispering pols traditionally draw up legislative maps, with an eye toward nothing more than taking care of friends and strangling the other party.
A spokesman for 2014 gubernatorial candidate Sen. Bill Brady said Brady supports the amendment, but the other candidates for governor haven’t had much to say in public or support the general idea of reform but aren’t sold on this particular version.
So, OK, tell us what you would support. Spell it out.
Few of the candidates planning to run for offices farther down the ticket have climbed onto the bandwagon. But they should, even at the risk of irking party leaders who benefit from the current system.
Here’s just one statistic that says why: In two-thirds of the races for General Assembly last year, there was no race at all because there was not a single challenger. The race was over before any voter got to the polls.
The voters didn’t have a choice in 2012 because Illinois’ legislative districts are so badly gerrymandered. Gerrymandering — creating district boundaries that preordain election results — has been around forever, but only in recent years has technology given politicians the tools to virtually write the voters out of the equation. The redistricting amendment would reinject competition into the process.
A coalition called Yes! for Independent Maps is working to collect more than 298,000 signatures by May 4, 2014, a requirement for putting this reform to the voters the following November. To survive challenges, the campaign probably needs more like 500,000 signatures. It won’t be easy. A similar effort in 2010 failed. So, please, sign those petitions. Find a petition-passing volunteer or get your own petition at www.independentmaps.org.
The commission’s criteria in drawing legislative maps would be: contiguous areas substantially equal in population; not diluting votes of racial or language minorities; putting cities and other local units in the same district when possible; not splitting up “communities sharing common social and economic interests”; not favoring a particular political party, and not taking into account where politicians reside.
That would result in more fairly drawn districts and more competitive races. More competition would force candidates to pay closer attention to what voters want.
“If you are a candidate who wants to change the way business is done in Illinois, dealing with our myriad fiscal and ethical issues, this is exactly what you should be supporting because it is about good government,” says former Lt. Gov. Corinne Wood, who is working on behalf of the amendment.
We have a long way to go to reform politics in Illinois. Reforming the redistricting process is a big piece of the puzzle.