A Critical Reform For Better Government

Brad McMillan, Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service

May 6th was the deadline for the Fair Maps Amendment to pass the Illinois General Assembly, allowing Illinois voters on November 6, 2018, to finally put an end to congressional and state legislative gerrymandering. But rather than giving citizens the chance to vote at the ballot box, House Speaker Mike Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton did not allow the Fair Maps Amendment to be voted on—notwithstanding its strong support in both chambers.

On February 26, 2018, Rep. Ryan Spain of Peoria filed the Fair Maps Amendment (HJRCA 43) in the House. It garnered 28 co-sponsors, including Reps. Tim Butler, Keith Sommer and Mike Unes from central Illinois. The Fair Maps Amendment improved upon a 2016 redistricting resolution, which received an overwhelming and bipartisan 105 “yes” votes in the House, including from Speaker Madigan.

Correspondingly, on March 13, 2018, Sen. Julie Morrison filed the Fair Maps Amendment (SJRCA 26) in the Illinois Senate, eventually gaining an impressive 39 bipartisan co-sponsors, including Sens. Dave Koehler and Chuck Weaver and Minority Leader Bill Brady. Significantly, the 39 co-sponsors (17 Democrats and 22 Republicans) represent two-thirds of the Illinois Senate—more than the three-fifths majority required to pass a constitutional amendment. And yet, there was still no vote allowed on the Senate floor.

Illinois democracy is being stifled. All of these legislators who supported the Fair Maps Amendment were duly elected by the citizens of their districts. Moreover, it is strongly supported by the Illinois Redistricting Collaborative, a diverse coalition representing millions of Illinois citizens, including CHANGE Illinois, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, NAACP Chicago South Side Branch, Better Government Association, Common Cause Illinois, Citizens Advocacy Center, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, League of Women Voters Illinois, Small Business Advocacy Council, Illinois Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Farm Bureau and more. Indeed, a recent Paul Simon Institute poll shows that more than 70 percent of Illinoisans want an independent commission to draw legislative maps.

Rep. Spain, who championed the Fair Maps Amendment, believes it is the most critical reform facing Illinois. With the 2020 census looming, new congressional and state legislative maps will be drawn that will go into effect in the 2022 elections. Will these maps be drawn in public meetings by an independent commission—who will draw fair, competitive districts which fully protect minority rights—or will they be drawn by a few powerful politicians behind closed doors, purely to protect incumbents and expand their political power? In states like California and Arizona, where independent commissions draw the legislative maps, the result has been fairer, more competitive elections, and most importantly, better government—where gridlock has lessened and key public policy issues are resolved.

Illinois has one more shot at getting the Fair Maps Amendment on the ballot during the November 2020 election. Both gubernatorial candidates and all state legislative candidates in this fall’s election should be pressed on whether they will push the General Assembly to vote on the Fair Maps Amendment next legislative session. Illinois citizens need to raise their voices loud and clear to get this critical reform finally across the finish line. We can build upon the recent momentum and restore Illinois democracy for future generations. iBi

Brad McMillan is co-chair of CHANGE Illinois and executive director of the Institute for Principled Leadership in Public Service at Bradley University.

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