Drawing Lines

Letter penned to the Chicago Tribune in response to an editorial. Agrees Illinois should redistrict and take their lead from elsewhere.

May 8, 2009

Appeared in the Chicago Tribune.

This is in response to ""First, save the incumbents!" (Editorial, April 26). The pressure for government reform is building, and the way that political districts are drawn is right in the mix. District lines sort citizens into groups. The way the lines are drawn controls the way that voters are represented; it determines who has power and who does not. Right now Illinois effectively hands a knife to one of the political parties to carve up the state map for maximum advantage in the next election. Both parties have had ample opportunity for abuse, and both parties have condemned the process. But still the process remains. As a result pieces of Decatur and Springfield are now surgically extracted from the districts serving their neighbors, and Chicago districts are distended far into the suburbs. On April 26 this paper issued a call for correcting the way that legislative districts are drawn. The Illinois Reform Commission seconded the motion. The goal is unquestionably correct.

Districts should represent real Illinois voters, in real Illinois communities. And voters should choose their politicians, instead of the other way around. The proposal stops short of a real break with the past, leaving politicians in control of the process for their own re-election. Their model is Iowa. There, initial maps are drawn by an independent non-partisan agency; legislators have the power to reshape those maps—but they choose not to use it. In Iowa, political self-restraint works. Self-restraint is not one of the Illinois General Assembly's leading virtues. Stronger medicine is required. Every state is different; there are good leads for Illinois to follow.