Eye On Illinois: Changing statehouse mapping process a political longshot

“Ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard in government is crucial to our democracy. … The people of Illinois have been able to participate in public hearings and have their voices heard in drawing their legislative districts. I want to commend lawmakers for significantly increasing openness and transparency in the remap process.”

“The maps created have been done so purely out of the self-interest and self-preservation of incumbent Democrats, to the detriment of taxpayers, Hispanics, Republican and independent voters.”

“People of Illinois can be confident in a legislative map that is reflective of the diversity that we see in every corner of our state. Not only does this map adhere to state and federal laws, but it is a product of more than 50 public hearings where citizens came to tell us what their communities look like to them.”

“You sold out. You sold out independents, you sold out Republicans, you sold out Democrats, to the partisan Democrat machine which has destroyed Illinois.”

The first quote was Gov. Pat Quinn in June 2011. The second was a response from Pat Brady, then chairman of the Illinois GOP. For the other statements we jump a decade into the present, hearing last week from House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and House Republican leader Jim Durkin.

There are new players this time around, and a few of the circumstances have changed, but the game remains the same: win control of the General Assembly in a year ending in zero, earn the right to draw political maps for the ensuing decade and the only price to pay is public criticism from the minority party and a growing but ultimately powerless chorus of reform-minded advocates.

The story isn’t over this time around as we won’t see new Congressional districts until federal Census data becomes available. Legal challenges likely await as well. But with Gov. JB Pritzker’s signature last week, the new state House, Senate and Supreme Court districts are functionally finalized, ending the momentary dispute and opening a new window on whether anything will change by 2030.

Option one is convincing legislative Democrats to cede this power by supporting a constitutional amendment for an independent redistricting commission. Option two is convincing Republicans in the U.S. Senate to back the For the People Act, sweeping voting rights legislation that passed the House in March. One key component is an attempt to end gerrymandering by requiring states to use independent mapping commissions.

That proposal doesn’t explicitly forbid state-level partisan maps, but top-down pressure, as well as efficiency, would make a total conversion a practical outcome.

Absent those changes, neither of which seem politically plausible, we’ll reconvene in June 2031 to dish out new quotes rehashing old talking points.

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