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Brown: Dems’ stance on redistricting reform will catch up to them

Gov. Bruce Rauner and House Speaker Michael Madigan. | Associated Press File Photos

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At some point, the obstinate refusal of Illinois Democratic leaders to embrace legislative redistricting reform is going to catch up with them.

They put off the day of reckoning again Wednesday when a Cook County judge rejected a citizen-initiated effort to hold a referendum on the issue in November.

But the court victory could prove to be a case of winning the legal battle on the way to losing the political war.

There’s a price to be paid for defying the will of Illinois voters who, to the extent they understand the issue, clearly want a change in how the state draws its political boundaries.

The message has gotten through to them that Illinois’ current system allows state lawmakers to pick their voters instead of voters picking their lawmakers, a sorry state of affairs that cannot stand.

For those who still haven’t gotten the message, they will after a few million dollars more in television ads from Gov. Bruce Rauner, who stands ready to exploit the issue in the election wars ahead.

But this isn’t just a Republican cause.

OPINION

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Redistricting reform has long been identified as a major need by most everyone who takes an independent look at what’s wrong with Illinois government.

And voters who aren’t afforded the chance to vote on proposals they want to see enacted may soon start making the connection to those who are denying them that opportunity.

The truth is that Democrats in control of the Illinois Legislature have used their power to draw the political map to give themselves the greatest possible advantage to elect more of their own.

Republicans did the same when they were in charge, but weren’t nearly as good at it.

Democrats don’t want to change the system when doing so only creates a chance of weakening that grip.

It’s for that very reason that many Republicans want a change: to regain ground they can’t seem to make up in the voting booth.

I make no secret in this space about being a Democrat. I want Democrats to control the Legislature, but not at the expense of democracy itself.

The current system, which discourages opponents from challenging entrenched incumbents, is anti-democratic.

As I keep saying, if Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and others didn’t like the redistricting proposal put forth by the Independent Map Amendment group, then they should have authored their own.

Instead, they went through the motions this spring with each chamber of the General Assembly passing its own version of redistricting reform, leaving the matter to die when no effort was made to reconcile the differences.

It was a cynical ploy by Democrats, no doubt supported behind the scenes by many Republicans who also see no value in upending a system that works to their individual benefit.

There are reasonable arguments against taking the redistricting power away from duly elected representatives and putting it in the hands of appointees. And there are reasonable arguments that the Independent Map Amendment proposal is flawed.

But instead of making either case to the public, Democrats have chosen instead to keep remap reform proposals off the agenda in Springfield and out of the reach of the voters.

It’s a short-sighted strategy.

I have no quarrel with those who challenged the Independent Map Amendment effort in court, even if the group mounting the challenge was a front for Democratic interests.

The Illinois Constitution sets an extremely high bar for citizen initiated amendments, and if those who oppose the Independent Maps proposal don’t think it met the proper legal standards, they shouldn’t be criticized for exercising their right to go to court.

The Illinois Supreme Court will decide that question.

Either way, Democrats shouldn’t be surprised if voters find a way to register disapproval about the hypocrisy of those who pretend to support redistricting reform while allowing it to fail.

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