EYE ON ILLINOIS: Fair maps advocates see new potential with Madigan sidelined

There is renewed optimism in the fair maps movement — but is it justified?

During the lame duck session, I lamented the fate of House Bill 5873, which would create a nonpartisan commission to draw the state’s legislative boundaries. The main impediment was the continued entrenchment of House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has both expertly guided mapmaking to suit Democrats’ purposes and shrewdly undercut challenges to reform efforts on several procedural fronts.

But Madigan is no longer speaker and may be leaving the Legislature altogether. His successor, Emanuel “Chris” Welch, is on record saying he’s “always supported fair maps.” Last week he told the Chicago Tribune “I’m going to reach out to the governor. I’m going to reach out to the Senate president and the other leaders and we’re going to work on this collaboratively and try to do the best we can and try to be as transparent as we can. I think that’s how you build trust is by doing it in a transparent way.”

Gov. JB Pritzker, while campaigning, pledged to veto any maps “drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies.”

So perhaps HB 5873 will come up again when lawmakers return to Springfield. If so, now is the time for constituents to lean on Democrats to prove they are serious about ethics and reform

After that Jan. 9 column, DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson wrote with his own optimistic take:

“There is indeed hope for more fair government at the grassroots level,” Hanson said. “In 2014, DeKalb County, with a County Board split 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans, passed a ‘Fair Map’ ordinance for drawing up our 12 County Board districts, based largely on the State of Iowa model. Finally, now in 2021, we will get to see if this new model works as intended.”

The ordinance isn’t complex, favoring unity of township and municipal boundaries while forbidding use of incumbents’ addresses, voters’ party affiliations, election results or any demographic data unless stipulated in the state and federal constitutions.

The county administrator, community development director and engineer will each independently draft a proposal (if any office is vacant the forest preserve superintendent tags in), then the information management office director analyzes the plans for the full board.

DeKalb’s process is worth monitoring (I’m admittedly unable to fully detail mapping procedures in the other 101 counties), but state lawmakers must act quickly to codify any changes for the current cycle. Guaranteeing equal representation is a tall order, and no matter how we define the “fairness” of maps, crooked politicians can still win election.

Still, with such energy around reform these days it’d be nice to see maps draw some of that attention.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.