The cantankerous Greek philosopher-cynic Diogenes gained notoriety by carrying a lantern through the streets of Athens in search of an honest man.
He never found one, and it’s fair to say he’d have no more luck today searching for a legal and politically viable way to draw fair legislative maps that don’t rely on gerrymandering to stifle competition for Illinois House and Senate seats.
Despite the bright light the Better Government Association and other advocates shined on a pathway to redistricting reform—putting the Fair Map Amendment on the November ballot—the Illinois Supreme Court declared the initiative unconstitutional by a vote of 4-to-3.
The majority found a legal defect in the proposal, and that was that, even though more half a million Illinois residents signed petitions in support of the amendment.
Redistricting reform isn’t sexy—it’s wonky—but it’s becoming increasingly important to Illinois voters who blame part of the dystopia in Springfield on a dysfunctional state legislature.
Their goal, and ours, is to replace the current system, which allows legislative leaders to jerry-rig district boundaries to protect their members and increase their majorities, with an independent commission that creates legislative districts based on geography, not politics.
A recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU found 72 percent of Illinois voters favor independent redistricting, up from 63 percent in a poll last spring.
The increase reflects the favorable publicity generated over the summer by the Independent Map campaign, which had the overwhelming support of reform groups, newspaper editorial boards and a bipartisan coalition of a past and present political leaders.
Missing from the list, unfortunately, were the Democratic legislative leaders who expanded their House and Senate majorities by artfully drawing partisan legislative maps.
It’s worth noting the same Democratic Party also helped elect the four Supreme Court justices who found the Fair Map Amendment unconstitutional over the vociferous objections of their three Republican colleagues.
So now what?
Throw in the towel and give up on redistricting reform? Hardly.
There are at least a dozen different proposals floating around.
The only one that requires another petition drive to collect half a million new signatures is Former Gov. Pat Quinn’s “Fair Redistricting Amendment,” which is simpler than the Independent Map amendment and, according to Quinn, more likely to pass constitutional muster.
That’s debatable, and there’s no indication supporters of the Independent Map amendment will sign onto a petition drive led by Quinn.
In theory, the state legislature is an easier path to getting a constitutional amendment on the ballot because it requires no petitions or signatures—just three-fifth votes in the House and Senate.
But given the opposition of Democratic leaders, including powerful House Speaker and Illinois party chairman Michael Madigan, a petition drive might be easier.
Still, lawmakers filed a dozen joint resolutions in the spring session that would have sent a redistricting reform proposal to the voters, which demonstrates an encouraging commitment by rank-and-file legislators to depoliticize the process.
Some of the proposals are variations on the Independent Map Amendment and others are new ideas, but none crossed the legislative finish line—no surprise—so we’re hoping they’re re-introduced for consideration in 2017.
We’ll be relying on advice and guidance from our good government colleagues at CHANGE Illinois, a reform group that will be acquiring email and donor lists from the Independent Map campaign, analyzing proposals and considering new approaches.
My favorite tongue-in-cheek idea comes from Springfield blogger and political analyst Rich Miller, who suggests a citizen-led petition drive aimed at eliminating the Illinois House, or cutting the House and Senate in half.
That would meet the constitutional requirement that amendments relate directly to the structure and procedures of the legislature, and it would be popular among voters fed up with business as usual in Springfield.
Maybe it’s too radical, but perhaps a modern day Diogenes descending on the Capitol in search of an alternative—a viable redistricting plan—might convince Madigan and the other Democratic leaders to accept one of the reform proposals.
We’ll bring the lantern.