Remap: Illinois reformers can keep losing to the Democratic machine

Remap: Illinois reformers can keep losing to the Democratic machine

Independent Maps, a group of civic leaders and volunteers, announced it is asking the Illinois Supreme Court to reconsider its decision striking a remap amendment from the Nov. 8 ballot. The justices ruled 4-3 along party lines to deny voters the opportunity to change this state’s redistricting process, which now rests in the hands of politicians who fashion their own districts. It’s a self-protection racket.

Remap supporters admit a court reversal is a long shot — a Hail Mary down seven football fields. But the group filed the request with the court anyway out of respect for donors and other supporters who raised millions of dollars and collected 563,000 signatures in an effort to end gerrymandering. The group says the justices who signed the majority opinion did not rely upon debate during the 1970 Illinois Constitutional Convention. Framers were clear in their intent to make the constitutional amendment process open to grass-roots efforts.

We’ll second Independent Maps’ motion: Get back here, justices, and do your well-paid jobs. At minimum, explain how any amendment can pass muster under the terms you’ve set forth.

It’s no secret what killed this remap amendment: a political machine fueled by self-interest. Party leaders in the General Assembly — House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton — for years have refused to put a remap amendment question on the ballot. They’ve allowed other constitutional amendments to proceed when it suited them — you’ll get to vote on road funds this year (whoopee!), but not redistricting. So citizens have been forced to undertake costly, labor-intensive signature-gathering efforts to get around them.

Yet those citizens still lose. The Democratic supermajorities in the General Assembly shape election laws. The Democratic Party attorneys fight the citizens’ efforts in court. The Democratic-majority Supreme Court delivers the fatal blows.

Dissenting Republican Justice Robert Thomas all but said the system is rigged in his dissent to his Democratic colleagues’ ruling: “The Illinois Constitution is meant to prevent tyranny, not to enshrine it. Today, just as a critical election board deadline is about to expire, four members of our court have delivered, as a fait accompli, nothing less than the nullification of a critical component of the Illinois Constitution of 1970.

“The majority’s decision to quash it is no less than the death knell of Article XIV, Section 3’s promise of direct democracy as a check on legislative self-interest. Today a muzzle has been placed on the people of this State, and their voices supplanted with judicial fiat. … The whimper you hear is democracy stifled.”

Justices Thomas Kilbride, Charles Freeman, Anne Burke and Mary Jane Theis — each of them helped along in their political careers by the Democratic Party — offered only limited, astringent reasoning for the nullification Thomas condemned. Keep in mind: In Illinois, Supreme Court justices run in partisan elections for 10-year terms and have the ability to raise enormous sums of campaign cash. According to The Council of State Governments, Kilbride in his 2010 retention campaign raised $2.8 million, largely from Democratic interests — more than the total amount raised by “all candidates in all other judicial retention elections nationally between 2000 and 2009.”

We appreciate the diligent and decent work remap supporters have undertaken in an effort to dismantle the status quo. Independent Maps says it won’t give up on getting an amendment on the ballot.

But the reformers will have to play hardball. No more badminton. If they want to beat the machine, they have to pay closer attention — we all do — to Supreme Court races. They have to target House and Senate races of lawmakers who won’t fight to get the legislature itself to put a remap amendment on the ballot.

Many rank-and-file Democratsinsist they support a remap amendment. But they say nothing when their own leaders block the effort to get it done. They do not challenge Madigan or Cullerton. They do not protest. They do not demand a vote on the floor. They do not confront. They shrug their shoulders, change the subject.

 


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