Raise your hands.
How many are favorably impressed with Illinois lawmakers?
How many of you disapprove of the job Congress is doing?
Nearly nine out of 10 of you.
I’m guessing, then, you agree with what U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., says about Congress:
“Instead of being the world’s greatest example of representative government,” he has argued, “we seem to have become the nation’s largest kindergarten — only with control of the nation’s checkbook and nuclear arsenal.”
Ditto for the General Assembly in Springfield. It does not control nuclear weapons (thank goodness) but it does control the state checkbook, which has bled red for so long that normal fiscal policy equals no sane fiscal policy at all.
We, the rank and file citizenry, are so used to throwing up our hands, proclaiming there’s nothing we can do, that we’ve convinced ourselves that the system is beyond our control.
Michael Golden, with all the passion of an evangelist, is begging us to believe otherwise.
Golden, 48, is a Chicago kid who moved to the suburbs, got a master’s degree from DePaul, and worked as a local television reporter in Illinois, Iowa and California. And then as a political consultant with both Democrats and Republicans on campaigns and public policy projects.
He is the author of a brand new book, “Unlock Congress: Reform the Rules, Restore the System.” It’s about making bipartisan politics operational once again.
There are major afflictions that Congress and the Illinois General Assembly share in common.
One of the biggest, Golden argues, is the rigging of legislative districts — state and congressional — so that incumbents remain insulated and protected while their challengers die like flies.
On the topic of gerrymandering, Golden quotes none other than Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who served in Congress:
“The House of Representatives is set up for the voters to pick their representatives. Through redistricting, and through technology, representatives now pick their voters! So the system is now turned upside down. . . . And I say this as a person who practiced those dark arts. It’s wrong. . . . And that does skew the system.”
It’s true nationally.
And it is absolutely the case in Illinois.
One of the issues before us at the moment is a proposed constitutional amendment to depoliticize the mapping of districts. There is legislation filed Friday by the Rauner administration. And a separate citizens’ petition initiative supported by former Gov. Jim Edgar, former White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley and a rainbow coalition of civic leaders.
Either way, remap could be on the November 2016 ballot, where voters would be able decide just how well or poorly they are served by this gridlocked, rigged system.
“Where the incumbents are safe, they have immunity from taking risks or listening to new ideas,” argues Golden.
“People need to get upset enough . . . and not just complain.”
His book is readable. And needs to be read.
It offers us a vial of vaccine for the diseased politics that is crippling us.