A group calling itself Yes for Independent Maps is taking steps to change the way legislative districts are drawn in Illinois. If successful, the question would be put to the voters in the November 2014 election.
Yes for Independent Maps is comprised of a coalition of 16 groups and organizations from around the state, including the League of Women Voters and the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce.
“I think there’s a very strong sense of public opinion in Illinois that our state government is dysfunctional and I think one of the reasons it is dysfunctional is because of these legislative maps,” said Doug Whitley, Chamber president. “Legislative districts are the foundation upon which representative government is dependent. How you draw the map to a great extent determines who is going to be the legislator.”
According to a written Chamber statement, “The adoption of this Constitutional Amendment would represent the most dramatic action the citizens of Illinois could take toward fundamental change to shake up the status quo in Illinois government. Establishing an independent process for drawing legislative maps will diminish the influence of party ‘powerbrokers,’ yield more competitive elections and produce boundaries that the average citizen would acknowledge as more reasonable and sensible than those we have seen from the professional politicians.”
Incumbents in the Illinois House of Representatives won 97 percent of their general election races in 2012, according to Whitley. Two-thirds of the incumbents seeking re-election to the House of Representatives did not even face a challenger in the general election. Thirty of 59 State Senate legislative offices had no opposition on the general election ballot. Conversely, 65 of 118 state representative offices had no general election opposition.
So, Whitley said, 95 of 177 Illinois legislators were generally guaranteed uncontested campaigns once they got past the March primary.
Yes for Independent Maps must secure 298,000 valid signatures from registered Illinois voters to gain approval of the State Board of Elections to certify the validity of the citizen initiated referendum. The filing deadline is May 4, 2014. It is estimated that in order to secure 298,000 valid signatures, the group will need to gather 600,000 signatures. The campaign is expected to cost approximately $2 million just to get the question on the ballot.
If adopted, the “Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment” would establish an 11-member Independent Redistricting Commission to draw state legislative maps. The amendment would not affect Illinois’ Congressional district or local maps as Illinois initiatives are limited by the state Constitution to matters pertaining to the state Legislature.
Under the proposed amendment, the independent commission would draw district boundaries that would:
• Be contiguous, substantially equal in population, and in compliance with federal laws.
• Not dilute or diminish the ability of a racial or language minority community to elect the candidates of its choice.
• Respect the geographic integrity of cities, towns, and other units of local government.
• Respect the geographic integrity of communities sharing common social and economic interests
• Not purposefully or significantly discriminate against or favor any political party or group, and not consider the residence of any person.
The Commission would hold public hearings throughout the state both before and after it releases its draft maps. All Commission records and communications between commissioners would be open for public inspection, and all Commission meetings would be open to the public and publicly noticed at least two days ahead of time.
In order to approve any plan, seven of the Commission’s 11 members would need to approve it — including at least two Democrats, two Republicans and two unaffiliated members. No legislative action would be needed once the commission approves a map.
The process would be similar to that used by other states including Arizona, California, New Jersey, Iowa and Florida, according to Whitley.
He acknowledged that there had been an unsuccessful attempt at a redistricting initiative a couple of years ago but believes chances of success this time are good. This effort has gotten a much earlier start; supporters have brought in professional management; and he expects they will be able to raise enough money to hire professional petition circulation help.
Illinois state Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, backs the initiative.
Kay said most states leave the drawing of legislative districts to the state Legislature and the governor who typically try to maximize their party’s prospects for the next election. He said that Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, and Gov. Pat Quinn did exactly that when drawing the last map.
“I don’t think we ought to be operating in this day and age on the concept that, to the victor goes the spoils,” Kay said, “because Illinois literally is spoiled and we can’t afford to go down the path we’ve been on for the sake of electing the same people to the same offices year in and year out.
“Careerism is a big thing in the General Assembly in Illinois. People want to go there and be there forever. That’s never been my view and it isn’t my view. But, in the state of Illinois and many other states we’ve been carving out a lifetime career for people who really like to be in the political realm — who like to be in that environmentI’m not sure that when somebody likes a job in politics that much they ought to stay that long.”