Sometime within the next week, Illinois Democrats are expected to take the wraps off a state legislative redistricting proposal that will press their numeric advantage in the General Assembly, followed at some point by a Congressional remap that will do likewise.
And I say: Go for it!
This obviously is not the good government position I have long embraced along with other do-gooder types who have yearned for a bipartisan independent mapmaking commission that would take the redistricting process out of the hands of lawmakers.
The notion that we could bring some positive change to Illinois government by reforming the process of how we draw our political boundaries has always appealed to me.
The complaint that the current process allows lawmakers to pick their voters instead of voters picking their representatives is absolutely correct.
So what happened to change my mind?
Donald Trump is what happened, along with the big lie of the stolen election and the mass psychosis that has turned the Republican Party into his plaything and our national politics into a power struggle that requires all legal means to hold him at bay.
One of those legal means, as determined by our conservative U.S. Supreme Court, is political gerrymandering.
The court says it is completely permissible for state legislatures to draw the boundaries of Congressional and state legislative districts for partisan political gain, as many Republican-leaning states did to great advantage following the 2010 census.
My quaint (dare I say naïve) notion of bipartisan redistricting was based on the idea Democrats and Republicans in Illinois were bound by a commonweal, pursuing a common purpose via conflicting philosophies.
The Republican Party now under Trump’s spell seems to hail from a different planet that I don’t recognize, and its antagonism toward public health measures during the pandemic only increases my desire to limit its influence.
We still have many responsible leaders in the Illinois GOP, such as House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, and I don’t lightly ignore his complaints about how Democrats have cut his members out of the redistricting process.
But my answer is: Get back to me in another decade after we see whether Trump has been excised from the scene and we’ve found our new normal.
In the meantime, it’s more important than ever that Democrats retain political control in Illinois government — and send as many Democrats as possible to Congress.
Several decades of election results have proven Illinois is a firmly Democratic state, one in which Republicans can still win an occasional statewide race when Democrats fail to put up a strong candidate.
A Democratic state needs to draw a Democratic map.
That map shouldn’t try to wipe out the Republican Party. In the long run, our state needs the competition of ideas that a strong two-party system brings.
But I’ve got nothing against super majorities in the General Assembly as the decade’s starting point.
Highly-populated Democratic states such as Illinois already have a built-in disadvantage in both the U.S. Senate and the Electoral College.
It makes no sense to unilaterally disarm and cede whatever power Democrats have to influence the House of Representatives and state legislatures, too. Don’t forget how Trump tried to use state legislatures to overturn the voting results from states he lost — based on nothing more than Republican political might and a desire for a different outcome.
Having failed to overturn the election results, Republicans are now trying to alter state election laws to make it tougher for Democratic candidates to win the next time. That’s not going to happen in Illinois.
The greater harm in Illinois from allowing lawmakers to draw their own legislative maps is that it limits the intra-party competition needed to surface new leaders by protecting incumbents in both parties.
Maybe the do-gooders can go back to the drawing board and consider an independent commission plan that recognizes partisan advantages. I’d still like to see a commission draw the City Council’s ward boundaries, seeing as how Democratic versus Republican is not really a factor.
I also realize the new Democratic maps may run aground for other reasons — namely rushing to beat a state Constitutional deadline to finish their work before the new detailed census data is available. They don’t want wait because that might give Republicans an opening to draw the map.
Let’s put that in the category of “we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.”
For now, it’s full speed ahead.