Thursday, February 25, 2010

Democrats preview redistricting plan

By Jamey Dunn

Senate Democrats previewed their plan for redistricting today after Republicans unveiled their proposal last week.

Democrats have not drafted their proposal as a piece of legislation yet, but the held a news conference today outlining some of the details that they expect to include.

Under their plan the legislature would draw the new map. If they chose to de-nest the districts, not have the same districts for the Senate and the House, then each chamber would draw its own map and pass it with a three-fifths vote. If they decided to stick to the current nested system, then the General Assembly would create one map that would pass as a bill and require the governor’s signature.

If the legislature cannot agree on a map, or maps, by June 30, 2011, a commission, appointed by the legislative leaders would get the job. The leaders would each appoint seven members to the 14-member commission to create a map for approval by the General Assembly. If that doesn’t work, the Democrat’s plan mirrors the Republican one in the creation of a special master to draw the map. That master would be chosen by the chief justice of the Supreme Court and a justice of the other party.

The major difference between the parties' plans is who draws the first map. In the Democrat’s plan the legislature does it, while in the Republican plan it is a commission appointed by the leaders. This is the point on which it seems neither side is willing to compromise.

“The Democrat plan leaves the power in the hands of the General Assembly to draw the districts in which they will be running. The Democrat plan allows the General Assembly to pick its voters in very district as opposed to the voters picking who will be in the General Assembly,” Mattoon Republican Sen. Dale Righter said.

However, Democrats said that a commission appointed by legislative leaders would not take the power away from the General Assembly, and a larger group is needed to ensure diversity is represented in the process. “Is it weakening the power of the legislative leaders to give them the opportunity to appoint two members of the redistricting commission each?” Chicago Democrat Sen. Kwame Raoul, chairman of the Senate redistricting committee, said. “I think there’s more ability to embrace the diversity of our great state if you have 177 voices involved in the process.”

Redistricting, while possibly a tad esoteric to the average citizen, has a large and lasting impact on future elections and the makeup of the General Assembly. It has already spurred controversy and partisan debate. Expect that to continue as the process is reconsidered.

“For me to sit up here and tell you that I am going to somehow depoliticize the redistricting process, I am not going to do that, that would be untrue. If I were to sit up here and tell you that my hope at the end of all this is not that the Democrats have the majority, that would be disingenuous,” Raoul said. “But what we do want to do is we want to shed some sunlight on the process. We want to take the chance out of it…We want to get public input.”

Raoul said Democrats hope to introduce their Constitutional amendment next week.

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