Eye On Illinois: If Congress won’t force change to mapping process, who will?

Many people want Illinois’ political maps to be the result of an independent commission. The challenge is how we get there.

U.S. Rep. Darrin LaHood, R-Dunlap, spoke about the ongoing process of redrawing the state’s Congressional maps.

“The state of Iowa does it, the state of California does it, Colorado, Arizona,” LaHood told WLDS-AM. “But instead, we have a legislature dominated by Chicago Democrats that are drawing the lines and they are going to be drawing them to where they will be very very partisan districts, very Republican, very Democrat.”

But LaHood opposes Congress forcing the change.

“We don’t want to federalize our elections across all 50 states,” he said. “The unique thing in our system is every state ought to decide where its lines are drawn. But there’s a better way of doing it. … There is I guess a presumption that we could pass a federal law that says every state could use an independent commission, but I don’t think the votes of support are there to do that. But clearly, this is in my view undemocratic, it’s not healthy for democracy and I think it leaves a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.”

LaHood knows the support isn’t there because he opposed two measures this year: the For the People Act (House Resolution 1) and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (HR 4). No House Republicans supported either measure.

In a March 3 statement, LaHood proclaimed HR 1 would “undermine the constitutional rights of states, suppress the free speech rights of Americans, subsidize political campaigns with taxpayer money and increase the vulnerability of our electoral system to fraud.”

He didn’t issue a statement explaining his Aug. 24 opposition to HR 4. That proposal is far less prescriptive regarding redistricting, but it would force states to get federal clearance before changing boundaries involving population changes among language or racial minority groups. (That could be relevant in Illinois, where ongoing federal lawsuits allege the already approved Statehouse maps dilute Latino voting power, according to Capitol News Illinois.)

Last week, Illinois’ GOP Congressional delegation issued a statement blasting “Democrats’ sham redistricting process” but they know their Statehouse colleagues lack the political power to subvert the status quo. They shouldn’t support either federal bill if they believe the bad outweighs the good, but if they truly feel nonpartisan mapping commissions would bolster democracy, they should consider proposing that reform as standalone legislation, putting the onus on Democrats to support or oppose.

Nonpartisan maps alone can’t ensure fair elections, but if there is real nationwide, bipartisan support for such a transformation it could be isolated from more controversial proposals. If it’s yet another issue where state’s rights predominate, we shouldn’t expect change.

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