Zarou: The New Term Limit for Chicago’s Inspector General Hopefully Will Start a Trend

It’s an Illinois truism: Holding office for too long breeds corruption. We see it at every level of government, yet the solution seems to be as elusive as a traffic-free day on the Kennedy.

And so it was a remarkable day in August when the Chicago City Council enacted term limits for the role of Chicago’s inspector general. The new law, recommended by my organization, the Better Government Association policy team, as well as the ethics committee and Inspector General Deborah Witzburg, will limit any holder of the office to two, four-year terms.

Adding term limits to any position in Chicago or Illinois is progress, but the stature of the inspector general role makes this particularly significant.

The inspector general is the most important oversight role in Chicago. The office investigates wrongdoing and oversees all elected officials in the city, including the mayor and aldermen. Advocating for term limits for an office you hold is not the norm. Witzburg deserves praise for starting what we hope will be a trend for those in public life.

Read the full story at

100 Days In, BGA Policy Reviews Mayor Johnson’s Government Ethics Campaign Promises

100 days ago this Wednesday, Brandon Johnson was sworn in as mayor of Chicago. 

During the campaign, Johnson, along with all other candidates except incumbent mayor Lori Lightfoot, responded to a Better Government Association questionnaire focused on transparency, accountability and ethics in government. 

Below are Johnson’s responses from the campaign trail, with the BGA policy team’s evaluation of the mayor’s progress on the issues in his first 100 days: 

Q1. Do you agree that FOIA violations are a threat to democracy and to the proper functioning of City government?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. Open access to information and open government are essential to our democracy. The role of the press, in particular, is “to serve the governed, not the governors,” and FOIA requests by media outlets are key to providing access to information for the general public. Many requests, however, are made by non-journalists, which makes engaging in the process an act of engaging in democracy. FOIA violations threaten democracy and erode trust between government and individuals who have elected “governors” to serve. And as we have seen in Chicago, with more than 100 lawsuits filed against the Lightfoot administration, the pursuit of information becomes more of a story than the information itself.”

100 Day Evaluation: Previous mayor Lori Lightfoot’s administration was famously combative of FOIA requests, facing multiple challenges in court – as Johnson alluded to in his response – and paying out more than $1 million in settlements, judgments, and fees for FOIA-related cases. 

It’s early days yet to see how much the city’s responsiveness to FOIA requests will change under the Johnson administration, but one promising sign for the first hundred days: the state’s Public Access Counselor has not yet issued any binding opinions against the city related to FOIA denials from the Johnson administration. (One binding opinion, issued May 26, related to an improper denial dating back to the Lightfoot administration.) 

Q2. Will you commit to the timely release of all Inspector General reports and limit redactions only to information that would compromise third-party privacy or undermine an ongoing investigation?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. I would absolutely commit to the timely release of Inspector General reports, and limit redactions only to sensitive and/or compromising information. Why dither, or delay? Not only is access to information important, but so is expedient access to that information. Urgency is evidence that these investigations and the subsequent reports are priorities to an administration, and as such, prioritized for the people of the city of Chicago”

100 Day Evaluation: No legislation has been introduced to give the Inspector General independent release authority. The Johnson administration has not released any of a number of significant incident reports from prior administrations that are eligible for release under the current municipal code, such as the reports on the Hilco smokestack demolition or the botched raid on Anjanette Young. Johnson’s corporation counsel has the authority to release those reports at the administration’s discretion. 

Q3. Will you commit to implementing recommendations of oversight agencies, such as COPA and Inspectors General of the city and its sister agencies, and to providing a detailed explanation in any case where you opt not to implement a recommendation?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. There must be trust in decisions and recommendations made by agencies that oversee city services. To outright reject recommendations from entities such as COPA and Inspectors General runs counter to the need for checks and balances in our government. To have oversight that mayoral administrations are constantly at odds with erodes credibility and contributes to mistrust from the general public. Let oversight perform the task it is entrusted to perform, and in instances where recommendations are rejected, city leaders must provide the proper analysis to justify that decision in a pragmatic and transparent way.”

100 Day Evaluation: The Office of the Inspector General has issued a number of reports with formal recommendations since Johnson’s inauguration. Out of 28 specific recommendations, the subject departments agreed with 24, either implementing the OIG’s recommendations or providing a timeline for implementation. The Johnson administration has an opportunity to follow through on his commitment to implementing inspector general recommendations by ordering departmental compliance with the outstanding recommendations:

  • In response to the OIG’s report on investigations of officer-involved fatal motor vehicle accidents, both CPD and COPA declined to work with the city council’s Committee on Public Safety to amend the relevant language of the municipal code.
  • CPD declined to commit to consistently firing officers found to have made false statements (“Rule 14” violations), citing contractual and due process protections.
  • CPD declined to enact policies allowing for trackable, verified, anonymous misconduct complaints from officers reporting wrongdoing, citing a need to evaluate “practical considerations” and providing no timeline for doing so. 

Q4. Do you commit to disclosing and abiding by an open and uniform appointment process for filling aldermanic vacancies?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. I fully support any process that brings consistency, clarity and transparency to the process for filling vacancies on the Chicago City Council. Democracy must be for all, but it must start with the people entrusted with governing our city.”

100 Day Evaluation: Too early to tell. No vacancies have needed filling since Johnson’s inauguration. The administration could lay out a uniform process via executive order, if Johnson wished. 

Q5. Will you commit to releasing a full dataset including appropriations, revenues, and positions as part of your mayoral budget proposals? (Currently, positions are stored in a separate dataset that is not linked to the appropriations data, and revenues are not included in either dataset.)

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. Mayors have used the City of Chicago budget to hide, obfuscate and misrepresent actual City spending and commitments for years. The City budget – and the budget presentation – is convoluted by design. Leadership means telling people the truth. The truth starts with greater budget transparency, especially in the release of information to the press and the public.”

100 Day Evaluation: Too soon to tell — but the public will get to see soon how Johnson follows through on this one. According to the mayor’s timeline, the budget will be presented at Johnson’s budget address on Oct. 11. In previous years datasets of the proposed appropriations and positions have been released at the same time as the mayoral address, but no revenue dataset is provided and the datasets are not linked. It would be a significant change in data availability – and a followthrough on this commitment – if the mayor’s Office of Budget and Management provided revenue data and linked or combined datasets this year, or released the data prior to the mayor’s address.

Q6. Direct introductions of proposed ordinances are often made in committees with no public posting of the text. Do you commit to making all direct introductions of legislation publicly available at least 48 hours in advance of the meeting?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. City Council committees should not be a black hole of backroom dealing and rubber stamps. Legislation introduced in Council impacts the lives of residents throughout the city of Chicago. The public has every right to have access to legislation prior to committee meetings, to allow time for residents to engage with their alderpersons about the scope of proposed ordinances.”

100 Day Evaluation: Despite this promise, the Johnson administration has made multiple direct introductions into committee, with votes taken on items that had not yet been posted publicly. Additionally, a proposed change to City Council’s rules that would have required 48 hour advance notice for direct introductions was struck, and the version of the new council rules that passed still allows for direct introductions with no advance warning or public posting of the introduced material. 

Q7. Will you require heads of “sister agencies” – the CTA, CPS, Park District, etc. – to appear before City Council committees when requested?

Johnson Answered:

“Yes. My administration will require leadership of the CPD, CTA, CPS, Chicago Park District and other agencies to appear before Chicago City Council committees when requested, and especially during periods of crisis and/or concern. Prior to these requests, however, my administration will encourage committee chairs to actually hold regular meetings with their colleagues, and perform the duties for which they are entrusted and appointed. An active City Council is how we truly make Chicago work for its people.”

100 Day Evaluation: Too early to tell. City Council has not formally requested a sister agency head to appear before them since inauguration. 

Q8. In your administration, how will appointments to City Council committees and leadership positions be made?

Johnson Answered:

“I believe the Chicago City Council must function as a robust and democratic body that legislates in the best interests of residents of the city of Chicago. To that end, I will reset the relationship between the Council and the mayor’s office, regain their collective trust, and work collaboratively and respectfully with alderpersons to determine committee leadership positions and composition.”

100 Day Evaluation: A City Council bid for independence before inauguration ultimately failed — the slate of committee chairs named during the runoff was replaced by a new set of names after Johnson’s election. However, the new appointments took longer to be formalized than in previous administrations, and the slate of names included both Johnson supporters and alderpersons who endorsed his opponent in the election, suggesting a greater degree of negotiation and give-and-take with the council than under previous mayors. 

Sophia Van Pelt: Illinois Juvenile Detention Centers Can Hide Mistreatment Behind FOIA Exclusion

It’s hardly news that the juvenile justice system in Illinois is failing the young people it is supposed to serve.

In the Cook County detention center alone, advocates and journalists in the last year have detailed conditions that leave detainees isolated, deprived of normal human contact. The conditions in Cook County are not an outlier. In the 16 other county detention centers in Illinois, children face similarly egregious conditions. But a loophole in the Freedom of Information Act in Illinois prevents the public from accessing the full scope of issues.

A statewide review by my organization, the Better Government Association, used existing audits and inspections and found examples of neglect in a number of facilities. These included locking children in their rooms for 36 hours for reasons as frivolous as having a pencil and a letter with rap lyrics. In response to concerns about flooding, one facility would frequently turn off the water overnight to an entire section of the building. Inspectors even found unjustified use of chemical restraints, which include pepper spray, tear gas and mace. One facility had 10 instances of using chemical restraints in 2021, with inspectors finding that “some” cases appeared to be in violation of the standards of use and naming one case in particular that was a clear violation.

But under current law, the public is unable to learn more about the other cases of unwarranted use of chemical restraints, or of any other instances of misconduct within these facilities.

The incidents we know about are probably only the tip of a much larger iceberg. The judicial branch is exempt from providing information to the public under the Freedom of Information Act, and because the county detention centers fall under the jurisdiction of Illinois courts, they aren’t legally obligated to respond to requests for information.

While court systems statewide — including the juvenile detention system — have no obligation to respond to public records requests, they create public records footprints as they meet other disclosure obligations. Facilities must comply with periodic audits and inspections by the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, which were used in the BGA Policy report I mention above. These give the public glimpses into what happens in these facilities. But such disclosures only scratch the surface and are not enough to ensure that the youths in these facilities are safe.

Worse, many facilities do not fully comply with the audits and inspections in the first place. The BGA found that only three of Illinois’ 16 county detention centers have completed a federally mandated audit meant to ensure young people are protected from sexual assault. And auditors from the Department of Juvenile Justice noted several facilities where data was scarce, with the Champaign County facility failing to provide basic information in 2021 and 2022.

The state’s failure to require facilities to respond to public requests denies public access to detailed data or aggregate information. This denies family members, researchers, journalists and advocates the ability to discover just how pervasive these problems are.

When the BGA sought this information through a standard records request, officials at most centers did not respond to questions about use of force and use of room confinement, or even provide the policy and procedure manuals that govern the use of force or confinement in these government facilities.

A bill introduced in the General Assembly this spring would have brought the Freedom of Information Act to the state’s court systems, including county juvenile detention centers, court finances and other judicial entities. The legislature should take up the bill and work quickly to apply the act equally across all branches of government.

Once the courts are subject to FOIA requests, researchers, advocates, journalists, family members and other interested parties will be able to request information from county detention centers and shed light on what is happening in these facilities. In the case of the juvenile detention system, such information could be used to enact future change to protect detained children.

The people of Illinois, and our government, have a duty to keep all children in the state safe as they prepare to enter adulthood. For many young people who wind up in the juvenile detention system, respectful and compassionate treatment in a safe environment is their best hope for growing into adulthood as conscientious members of our community.

Ensuring the safety of children in Illinois’ detention facilities is the least the public can do. We can protect these youths by shining a light on the facilities that house them as they await trial.

Cubbage: City Council Has New Committees. Now It’s Time to Reform Committee Staffing.

At a special session of Chicago’s City Council on March 30, the body adopted a new slate of committees and chairpersons – 28 total, up from the council’s existing 19. In a sign of an increasingly independent legislature, the vote took place without the input of Chicago’s next mayor, who will be elected April 4. Both candidates have indicated a willingness to work with a more independent city council, but neither has weighed in on the underlying issue that makes committee chairships such valued prizes: the budget and staffing that comes with the appointment. 

Thursday’s Council session did not include any budget amendments, meaning the funding and staffing for the new committees has yet to be determined. Council has an opportunity here to eliminate the long-standing practice of letting individual committee chairs control the hiring, firing, and supervision of committee staff, and replace it with a centralized model of professional support staff that serves the Council as a whole body. 

City Council’s current budget breaks out funding for individual committees, each with its own “Personnel Services” line item. The 2023 budget passed last October includes approximately $5.6 million in appropriations for the 19 committees that existed at the time. Committee allocations average around $300,000 per committee, ranging widely from $120,000 at the low end to over $1 million annually for the powerful Committee on Finance. 

Committee chairs hire and fire as they please from their committee budgets. Committee employees aren’t included in the city salary database, and the exact number of employees working for a committee at any given time, along with information such as their salaries and dates of hire, can only be obtained through FOIA, a lengthy process that often results in redacted or refused documentation. In some cases the committee may not even have proper records to hand over – a 2021 Inspector General audit found that multiple committees failed to keep accurate employee timesheets or retain attendance records as required under the Local Records Act.

That same audit also revealed what most Council-watchers already knew: committee staff members are frequently assigned to work on non-committee tasks, including constituent services in the chair’s ward. Regular alderpersons only get three full-time employees to work in their ward offices, and many current and former alderpersons have gone on-record saying it isn’t enough. Although the mixed duties aren’t technically allowed under state law, chairpersons have historically supplemented that workforce with their committee staff.

A system of patronage jobs controlled by individual chairpersons encourages competition for leadership positions, turning them into a bargaining chip in council power struggles. In the meantime, regular alderpersons make do with insufficient ward staff and little to no legislative support. The council employs a small Legislative Reference Bureau and Council Office of Financial Analysis, but both are undersized relative to other major cities, and each is controlled by a single alderperson (the President Pro Tempore and the chair of the budget committee, respectively). 

City Council will need to either amend the existing budget or wait until the 2024 budget to staff its new committees. Alderpersons should take a page from other legislatures, including those of most other major American cities: eliminate the practice of individual committees hiring their own staff, and instead budget for aides, legal counsel, financial analysts, and other professional support staff assigned to a centralized legislative support office. To further eliminate power struggles within council, the staff should be overseen by an appointed director confirmed by the body, rather than a single alderperson as part of a leadership role. If wards require additional staff to respond to constituent needs, Council can expand the number of ward office positions, to the benefit of all 50 members – and their constituents – rather than just those fortunate enough to chair a committee. 

Council has taken an important step in showing its independence by naming a slate of committee chairs without waiting for the new Mayor to name his picks. Now it’s up to Council to show the public that it can be trusted with that independence, by reforming the practices that turned committee assignments into tools of mayoral control in the first place. The budget will have to be reworked either way – now’s the time for Council to take advantage of the opportunity to centralize, professionalize, and democratize their resources, eliminating the patronage and winner-take-all politics that defines the current committee structure. 

Cubbage: It’s Past Time for the City Council To Name Its Own Committee Leadership

Ald. Matt Martin, 47th, vice chair of the City Council’s ethics committee, introduced a resolution at September’s council meeting that would move him up to replace retired Ald. Michele Smith, 43rd, as committee chair.

A vice chair stepping up after a chair’s retirement might seem to outside observers like an uncontroversial routine bit of parliamentary housekeeping, but this is Chicago, and Mayor Lori Lightfoot had a classically mayoral response: “There’s a process by which we do that, and the process is the mayor makes the final picks.”

That’s been the Chicago Way for generations of mayors and aldermen. (Quite literally, in the case of the various dynasties that have made City Hall their family business.) Forget what you learned in school about separation of powers and for that matter what it says in the council’s own rules: In practice, here in Chicago, the mayor decides who’s in charge, and the council nods and says “yes.”

Those leadership positions are big plums to hand out. Each committee controls its own budget, ranging from $117,000 for the refugee rights committee to the finance committee’s $1.15 million. Most of that goes to staff salaries, Balkanizing the vast majority of the council’s resources across 19 offices with 19 different bosses.


Zarou: Aldermanic Ethics Reform Package Could Be a Second Chance for Lightfoot To Fulfill Her Vow

Four years ago this month, Lori Lightfoot announced her intention to run for mayor of Chicago. The former federal prosecutor and Chicago Police Board president ran on promises such as pursuing ethics reform, reshaping the City Council, rooting out corruption and convening a panel of “journalists, attorneys, public watchdogs and other stakeholders … to make recommendations for increasing transparency.”

These vows helped Lightfoot trounce powerful Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a longtime Democratic operative. With her winning every ward and with 70% of the vote overall, the message was clear: People wanted reform.

Impressive, right?

That’s still to be determined. Although Lightfoot has made some key efforts and has had some success in her first go-round at ethics reform, she has not fulfilled all her promises. Now, as she looks at running for reelection in 2023, Lightfoot’s track record on reform is a mixed bag.

Read more at the

Zarou: Zoom Meetings Make State Government Accessible. But It’s Critical To Preserve In-Person Meetings

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 27th disaster declaration regarding COVID-19 is set to end. In many respects, life will go back to normal. This includes in-person public meetings.

But wait. Even as the pandemic winds down, towns and cities across the state are making a push in the state legislature to try to make their meetings too Zoom-friendly.

Public squares, dating to ancient Greece, were areas where dialogue, protest and decisions took place on behalf of residents of their cities. The idea of heading to one location where people can see their elected officials, air their displeasure and even advocate for change is at the heart of any democracy. It should not be disrupted.

In the emerging post-pandemic context, here’s what that means.

Read more at the

Zarou: Illinois General Assembly Has the Chance To Act on Meaningful Ethics Reform

Illinois lawmakers have a unique opportunity next year to tackle corruption by empowering the legislative inspector general and strengthening our ethics laws.

During the late hours into the spring legislative session, advocates fought for reforms within our state ethics system. While the new law is an important first step in addressing the issues in Illinois, they fell short of meaningful reform. In return, Inspector General Carol Pope resigned in protest.

Illinois has an unfortunate history of corruption at all levels of government. Reformers sought to create a one-year revolving door policy that would prohibit lawmakers from becoming lobbyists so soon after leaving office — the General Assembly agreed on six months. Reformers sought more power for the legislative inspector general — the General Assembly approved minor improvements — little more than window dressing, really — by allowing the IG to open investigations without permission, albeit without any subpoena power.

While these steps modestly improve on decades-old problems, there still is much more to be done. My message to lawmakers — stay the course.

In every profession, there are those who abuse their power. That’s no different in politics. Over the last few years, we have witnessed prosecutors charge current and former politicians with crimes such as corruption, ethics violations and bribery.

The actions of a few do not have to define the General Assembly as a whole.

There are many lawmakers in Springfield who have every intention of doing what they think is right for their constituents and for the state of Illinois. We need those lawmakers to make a meaningful attempt at strengthening key ethics laws, and this could start with empowering the role of the legislative inspector general.

This column appeared in the State Journal-Register.

Dillon: Will Lawmakers Have the Nerve to Cash Back Pay?

What did the framers of the Illinois Constitution mean when they declared that the salaries of state lawmakers could not be changed in the middle of a term? Attorneys spent many billable hours arguing about that recently, and a Cook County judge took 18 pages to explain how he’d ruled, but to taxpayers it’s utterly beside the point.

There is zero question about what lawmakers meant when they voted — eight times — to forgo annual cost-of-living raises provided under state law.

A state that can’t pay its health care providers, fix its roads or fund its schools can’t afford automatic pay increases for the inept stewards of its tax dollars. So every year from 2009 to 2016, lawmakers made a big bipartisan show of voting to freeze their salaries.

Former Sen. Michael Noland, D-Elgin, was one of them. So was former Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville. Now they’re plaintiffs in a lawsuit that says the votes they cast were unconstitutional.

They want to claw back those raises, for themselves and all lawmakers who gave them up. They also want to be paid for furlough days they agreed to take from 2009 to 2013.

State Comptroller Susana Mendoza, the defendant in the suit, says that would all add up to more than $10 million.

The constitution says lawmakers “shall receive a salary and allowances as provided by law, but changes in the salary of a member shall not take effect during the term for which he has been elected.”

Mendoza’s attorneys argued for a common sense interpretation: The authors of the constitution were not fretting about the possibility that lawmakers would vote to reduce their salaries, if in fact that’s what a pay freeze is. They just wanted to prevent lawmakers from helping themselves to raises after an election.

But Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama agreed with the literal reading argued by the plaintiffs: Change means change, up or down. He didn’t tell Mendoza to write the checks, at least not yet. The next court date is Aug. 7.

“Just as Illinois courts held that the Illinois Constitution prohibits using the salaries of judges and legislators as a political football by the governor and comptroller to advance a political agenda, members of the General Assembly cannot cut their own salaries to curry favor with voters,” Noland and Clayborne wrote in a candid self-own.

It’s true that a judge sided with lawmakers in 2013, when then-Gov. Pat Quinn used his line-item veto to delete their salaries from the state budget because they hadn’t enacted pension reforms. A different judge said Comptroller Leslie Munger, Mendoza’s predecessor, couldn’t withhold lawmaker paychecks during the legislature’s standoff with Gov. Bruce Rauner. Still another judge ruled that Gov. Rod Blagojevich and the General Assembly could not take away cost-of-living raises for state judges in 2003 and 2004.

But it’s one thing for a governor to zero out lawmakers’ salaries, and another for lawmakers themselves to decline an undeserved pay raise, then sue to recover that money on grounds that their own votes were unconstitutional.

Automatic raises for legislators have no business in state law anyway. Going forward, the transparent and responsible approach would be for lawmakers to remove the COLAs and vote to raise their salaries whenever they can make a case publicly that their performance warrants it.

Lawmakers’ base pay — stuck at $67,836 since 2008 — went up $1,600 on July 1 under the new state budget. It was an accident (wink wink). The House left out the agreed-upon language that would have eliminated the COLA, the Senate feigned surprise, Republicans feigned outrage, and Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the bill. Taxpayers shrugged. It’s hard to begrudge anyone a raise after all those years without one.

It will be a different story if all those salary freezes are voided and Mendoza has to start writing checks for back pay. How many lawmakers will have the nerve to cash them?

Dillon: Real Life Lessons in Civics From Springfield

The Illinois General Assembly went all in on civics education this session. That’s a good thing, mostly.

A measure (House Bill 2265) that would require middle schools in Illinois to include a semester of civics passed both houses with bipartisan enthusiasm and awaits Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s signature. It’s an initiative of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition, a group of educators, policymakers and public and private advocates convened by the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.

It builds on the success of a 2015 campaign to add civics to the public high school curriculum.

Also on its way to the governor is a bill (House Bill 2541) creating a civics course for soon-to-be ex-felons. Inmates would take the class — taught in part by other inmates — as they approach their prison release date. The goal is to prepare them to participate in civic affairs when they rejoin their communities. (In Illinois, voting rights are automatically restored after a sentence is served.)

A group of Carlinville High School students got a hands-on civics lesson this spring, when Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill, sponsored a bill (Senate Bill 533) based on their class project. The assignment was to research an issue and advocate for a solution. The students want to liberate Illinois from the spring-forward/fall-back tyranny of Daylight Savings Time. The bill made its way out of committee and advanced to the full Senate.

That’s a lot more than can be said for the Fair Maps Amendment, a measure supported by a coalition of good government groups (including the Better Government Association). The proposed constitutional amendment would assign the once-a-decade job of redrawing legislative maps to an independent commission, instead of letting lawmakers draw their own districts.

The need for this change is evident not just in Illinois but across the country, where partisan lawmakers have brazenly manipulated the maps to secure political advantage, a process known as gerrymandering. In Illinois, the Democratic party has the upper hand, and party leaders have exploited it to draw maps designed to elect more Democrats and fewer Republicans. But Republicans can — and have — done the same, given the chance.

Illinois voters have been trying for more than a decade to wrestle the job away from politicians. It’s an effort that takes on increasing urgency in advance of the 2020 U.S. Census, which will trigger the next round of redistricting.

There are three ways to amend the Illinois Constitution, as we trust those civics classes explain. One is a constitutional convention, in which the whole document is up for editing. Second is for citizens to collect signatures to put an amendment on the ballot. That approach has failed three times in the last decade, largely because of legal attacks sponsored by politicians who don’t want to surrender the power to draw the maps.

Despite those failures, it’s clear that citizens want the change. In each campaign, they collected hundreds of thousands of signatures and raised millions of dollars. Polls show strong voter support. The amendment would pass if it appeared on the ballot.

Which is why the third way ought to be the obvious way: Lawmakers can put an amendment on the ballot themselves. It requires a three-fifths vote of both houses, which isn’t a big hurdle if you believe all those candidates who profess at election time to support fair and independent redistricting.

Yet SJRCA4, the Senate version of the Fair Map Amendment, is parked with four flat tires in the Senate Assignments Committee. The companion measure, HJRCA15, is up on blocks in House Rules. The Fair Map Amendment never got so much as a hearing this session. Just like last session, and the session before …

That’s a real-life lesson in civics, one that contradicts the textbook narrative about elected representatives who carry out the will of voters. Those middle school teachers are going to have some explaining to do.