Dale Righter: Reformers, media must hold Dem leaders to promises

The State Journal-Register
May 6, 2010


In recent days, the Illinois House of Representatives, despite near unanimous support by the chamber's Democrats, defeated a proposed constitutional amendment on redistricting. Good government interests and editorial writers across the state saw it as nothing more than a symbolic reworking of the current system that allows incumbent legislators to draw their own districts.

A few hours later, the proponents of genuine redistricting reform acknowledged that they would be unable to reach the state's extraordinarily high standards for securing a spot on the November ballot.

As the dust settles, it is important to set the record straight and to examine the options remaining in Illinois.

One could hardly think of an organization less tainted by politics than the League of Women Voters of Illinois. Over the past year, they and dozens of other reform groups have been exposed to the ugliest side of Illinois politics as Democratic leaders fought to preserve their authority. If these organizations ever had any doubt about the difficulty of bringing true reform to Illinois government, they have certainly been disabused of that notion.

In the time since former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was driven from office, reformers have learned that they dare not attempt to mitigate the power of the House speaker and Senate president. Once elected to their positions, the remaining members of the majority caucuses do not challenge that power.

I hope the events of the past few months do not disillusion, but rather energize, this long list of reformers. Through their rhetoric, the Democratic majority has set a high standard and it will fall on reform groups and the news media to hold them to their numerous promises.

In public, House and Senate Democrats have advocated an open redistricting process. They can honor that pledge without any constitutional change. To hold true to their pledges, it is up to their leaders next year to open the backrooms of the redistricting offices and let reporters and reform groups watch and participate as lines are drawn and debated.

The public is fatigued with closed-door meetings that allow legislators to carve up communities and pick their own voters. We thought the best way to prevent that was to remove the temptation from lawmakers altogether through an independent commission.

The Democratic leaders and their members did not agree with our solution. Now that it appears that the current system will remain in place, they can demonstrate their sincerity by prohibiting members of their caucus from meeting with the mapmakers in private and by allowing reform groups to be present during all discussions.

Additionally, they have insisted that home addresses of incumbent legislators and voting histories of constituents are a necessary consideration in redistricting in order to protect minority representation and to assure that sitting lawmakers are not unfairly targeted for political reasons. When maps are drawn next year, it will be their responsibility to assure proposals adhere to those high standards. If promises are kept, no map will be proposed that packs populations for political gain or targets any member of the legislature for racial or partisan reasons.

I had hoped that voters would have an opportunity to weigh in on the Fair Map Amendment. Without that opportunity, reform groups and members of the media must step up and demand a seat at the redistricting table.

Remember every pledge that the Democratic majority has made over the past year in fighting off the proposal offered by the League of Women Voters, and demand they back up their rhetoric with actions that guarantee an open, transparent and fair redistricting.

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, represents the 55th Legislative District.


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