Former State Rep. Peter Breen (R-Lombard) is spearheading a grassroots effort, Fair Maps Illinois, to break House Speaker Michael Madigan’s iron control over the decennial reconfiguration of legislative districts.
The process as it stands effectively allows Madigan to pick winners before the voters even have a say, Breen says, in a political power game that leaves lawmakers indebted to the Speaker.
“Ignoring the problem only lets the corruption grow and fester, at your expense,” Breen writes on FairMapsIllinois.com, the website promoting the effort. “Your home value stagnates. Taxes and fees continue to rise, slowly strangling you and your local businesses. And your friends and family keep leaving, along with your customers or clients.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan
Breen added that in his four years as a state representative, he watched “Madigan use his total power to stifle nearly every good government measure introduced in the Illinois House.”
Voters have an opportunity to save the state from plunging further into economic distress by getting a proposed constitutional amendment on the November 2020 ballot that would strip Madigan of the power to mold district boundaries, or gerrymander the seats. With voter approval of Fair Maps, redrawing the seats ever ten years, as required by the state Constitution, would be in the hands of an independent bipartisan commission.
It will take 360,000 signatures of registered Illinois voters to get the question on the 2020 ballot. Once there, it stands a solid chance of voter approval, polls show. A March poll from the Paul Simon Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University showed 67 percent are in favor of the constitutional amendment, with support cutting across party lines.
The voters are Illinois’ last chance at reform. The hopes of redistricting reformers were dashed in June when U.S. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in a majority opinion on two state gerrymandering cases that “Partisan gerrymandering claims present political questions beyond the reach of the federal courts.” And on the state level a proposed constitutional amendment that would reform the redistricting process languishes in the Senate Assignments Committee in Springfield.
Examples of gerrymandering schemes include diluting the electoral powers of certain groups of voters by spreading them over several districts; the opposite of that is packing districts with a group of voters to increase their voting power. Another stunt is forcing a face-off between incumbents by putting them in the same district.
In the 2018 election, nearly half the races for the Illinois House of Representatives were uncontested, the Illinois Policy Institute (IPI) reports. The Illinois Senate was even less competitive, with 20 of the 39 senators up for election facing no opponent.
Last time around in 2011, Illinois Democrats drew lines that reduced Republican opposition by placing incumbent Republicans into the same district. Illinois Republicans did the same thing to Democrats in 1991 when they had majority power, IPI reports.
“Do what you’ve been doing (or worse, do nothing at all),” Breen said. “You know where that will lead. Is that really where you want to go? Take a new action, and get a new result. Finally get back control of your government from the corrupt Machine.”