By Jamey Dunn
Illinois’ next legislative district map could be determined by the luck of the draw, yet again.
With a Democratic redistricting plan struggling to find the Republican support it needs, and a voter initiative falling short on signatures, it looks as though the current system may stay in place.
A House committee voted down the “Fair Map” constitutional amendment backed by Republicans and several reform groups, including the League of Women Voters. The committee approved the Democrats’ “Citizens’ First Amendment,” which passed in the Senate over heated protest from Republicans.
The League of Women Voters is spearheading a petition drive to get the “Fair Map” amendment on the November general election ballot but is far from its goal of gaining enough signatures. With less than a week to meet the deadline for a constitutional amendment to make the ballot, the window for giving voters a choice on a new plan is rapidly closing
After the Republican plan was shot down in a Senate committee, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, the sponsor of the amendment, said she would be willing to add more protection for minority populations. That was a major area of criticism from Democrats, and some supporters of “Fair Map” say it could be stronger on this point.
Radogno added that she thought concerns over diversity representation were not the real reason for Democratic opposition. She said Democrats' true worry was the legislature losing its map-drawing power.
Yet the Republicans did not call what they perceived as the Democrats’ bluff today. The amendment they presented was identical to the one that stalled in the Senate, and many Democrats said their desires to protect minority voters played into their “no” votes.
“The question is, why do you not enhance the ability for communities of interest and minorities … to have their seat at the table,” said Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie.
Lang said the time to work out changes to the amendment has passed. “My view is that you have had much time to propose what you want to propose. … You want to propose weaker provisions for minority representation,” he said to House Republican Leader Tom Cross. The minority leader called Lang’s statement a “mischaracterization.”
The biggest sticking point between the two plans is ultimately who draws the map. Republicans say that the legislature cannot draw the districts they will be elected from because it is a conflict of interest. They want a commission appointed by the legislative leaders to create the map.
Cross admits that members of both parties might be nervous about changing the process. “To Republicans, it’s a risk for us. It’s a risk for [Democrats]. Having somebody other than us draw a map, we don’t like that. It’s down a road we’re not used to, and one we’re not perhaps even comfortable with because there’s an unknown … but this is the only way to begin the process of restoring integrity in this state.”
Chicago Sen. Kwame Raoul, sponsor of the Democrats’ amendment, says the issue of who draws the map also plays into the minority representation debate. He is concerned about the “inability of a commission to embrace the great diversity of our state.” He says the legislature does make up this diversity “not just from a racial perspective but from a geographic perspective as well.”
The amendment now goes to the House floor, where,if it receives the backing of every Democrat, it will still need at least one Republican vote. None of them are stepping forward to voice support at this point. In fact some are saying the plan was set up by Democrats just to be knocked down.
“Democrats will not compromise. And this is all nice window dressing that they’re going through right now, but the fact is at the end of the day, they’re not going to take our suggestions to heart. They will not make any changes. They want this to fail. The want the status quo,” said Rep. Jim Durkin, a Western Springs Republican.