Kadner: A way for you to reform Illinois
By Phil Kadner email@example.com January 29, 2014 8:00PM
Michael Kolenc is the campaign manager for Yes for Independent Maps, a coalition of organizations behind the effort to get a constitutional referendum on the ballot that would prevent legislative districts from being gerrymandered to benefit incumbents in Illinois. | Supplied photo
Updated: March 3, 2014 4:15PM
Average folks have a chance to hit Illinois’ most powerful politicians where it hurts in November.
Every decade after the census, state legislators can virtually guarantee their re-election by the required realignment of House and Senate districts. The redistricting map typically features districts of no discernible geometric shape — twisting and turning through towns and even neighborhoods so people living on the same block in the same town sometimes find themselves in a different district.
But a coalition of organizations has joined together to place a referendum for a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would take the mapmaking power out of the hands of the politicians. They need your help to collect a minimum of 300,000 signatures on petitions to get the referendum before voters.
A lot of attention has been focused on a campaign for term limits in Illinois, but believe me, this initiative is just as important if you are interested in representative government.
Yes for Independent Maps, the group behind the redistricting amendment, includes Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Manufacturers Association, the League of Women Voters of Illinois, the Small Business Advocacy Council, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the Latino Policy Forum, to name a few.
These are groups who often find themselves on opposing sides during political battles, but they understand the power of the legislative map.
As the organization’s website (independentmaps.org) states, “Political leaders own redistricting. ... Behind closed doors, they rig the district boundaries to control who will be elected. ... These same politicians choose their voters instead of the people deciding who will represent them.”
Last year, incumbents in the Legislature won 97 percent of their general election races, and two-thirds of them did not even face a challenger.
Term limits would have little impact on the process of crafting political maps that disenfranchise large portions of the population. The 35th House District is a perfect example of that.
The district is represented by Rep. Fran Hurley, of Chicago’s Beverly community, who used to be the secretary for the 19th Ward Democratic Organization. Hurley seems like a nice person and well-intentioned. But take a close look at how her district was drawn to ensure her election.
Here’s how the Illinois Board of Elections defines its boundaries: “... beginning at the intersection of S. Will Cook Rd. and W. 131st St. in Cook County, thence east along W. 131st St. to a point approximately 215 feet east of Blue Heron Dr., then south for approximately 60 feet, thence east for approximately 140 feet, thence north to W. 131st Street ...”
I mean, this is something out of Monty Python, and the district indeed resembles some sort of reptile.
It includes most of Orland Park at the tail end, but its head rests solidly in Chicago’s 19th Ward. In between, it winds its way through a narrow corridor that includes only a few blocks of Palos Heights, Alsip and Worth.
The Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment would require that the “geographic integrity of cities, towns and other units of local government” be respected when a new map is prepared, and the districts would “respect the geographic integrity of communities sharing common social and economic interests.”
In other words, “you could look at a map of legislative districts and immediately identify geometric shapes resembling squares and rectangles,” said Michael Kolenc, campaign manager for Yes for Independent Maps.
Coming up with a formula to reach that goal will certainly be open to criticism.
Now, the Legislature draws the Senate and House districts every 10 years. If that process fails, an appointed legislative commission creates the maps.
But here’s how it would work if the amendment were passed. An 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission would be created to prepare the maps, and it would hold public hearings throughout the state before and after it releases draft maps.
All commission records and communications between commissioners would be available to the public, and all commission meetings would be open as well.
To approve a redistricting plan, seven of the commission’s 11 members must approve it, including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated commissioners.
The amendment would not affect congressional districts or local government maps.
How are these 11 commissioners to be chosen? Through a five-step process. A nonpartisan review panel, appointed by the state auditor general, would eliminate applicants who have conflicts of interest, such as lobbyists and public officials. Any Illinois citizen could apply to be a commission member.
The panel would select what it judges to be the 100 most qualified applicants on the basis of analytical skills, impartiality, fairness and diversity. After that pool of candidates is chosen, the four top legislative leaders, in a process similar to jury selection, each may strike up to five applicants from the pool of candidates.
Seven commissioners then are selected by lottery to create a group of two Democrats, two Republicans and three persons unaffiliated with either party — all proportionally representing Illinois’ five judicial districts.
The four legislative leaders then each appoint one commissioner from the remaining pool “to ensure that the commission reflects Illinois’ diverse demographics and geography.”
If the commission cannot agree on a new map, the chief justice of the Illinois Supreme Court and a senior justice from the other political party would select a special commissioner for redistricting to draw a final map.
If you would like to pass out referendum petitions or find out more about the campaign, do a search for Yes for Independent Maps.
Believe me, Illinois political leaders don’t want to see this on the ballot.