Friday, April 30, 2010

ICPR Statement on the Future of Redistricting Reform

Regrettably, the General Assembly has failed the citizens of Illinois again by slamming the door on the opportunity to improve state government through a meaningful overhaul of the state's redistricting process in time for the 2012 election. ICPR opposed the plan rejected by the House Thursday because sponsors did not include suggested safeguards designed to prevent the redistricting process from being hijacked by partisan interests.

It also appears the citizens' initiative known as the Fair Map Amendment will not meet the extraordinary threshold that state law requires.

Despite these roadblocks, the spirit for reform remains very much alive in Illinois.

Even though the opportunity for a thorough restructuring of the redistricting process prior to the 2011 redistricting cycle has passed, Illinois can and must improve public participation and transparency around the map-drawing process.

Competing plans, each backed by one of the major parties, embraced some common ideals: Both proposals mandated that the district-drawing entity hold multiple public hearings across Illinois to allow for citizens to help educate drawers about communities, and to vet proposed maps. And both proposals allowed for the public to participate in the drawing process, by requiring the state to make public Census and other data, along with the tools to draw and submit their own district maps for consideration.

There remains an opportunity to put these agreed-upon improvements in state statute in the coming months. Illinois should enact laws that would mandate sunshine and public participation in the 2011 redistricting process. Additionally, the Illinois General Assembly still has the power, by statute or practice, to improve the state's Congressional redistricting process.

We remain committed to reforming the redistricting process to ensure it is not abused to further partisan interests, that minority voting rights are protected, and that there is transparency throughout the mapping process. Redistricting should protect voters by producing districts that allow the public to have a real opportunity to elect their lawmakers.

The redistricting process should protect the representation of all Illinoisans, not the interests of incumbent state senators and representatives. For that reason, the public must continue to demand that the General Assembly pass reforms that will put voters first, bring sunshine to the redistricting process and give voters an opportunity to influence how districts are drawn.


Thursday, April 15, 2010

House Democrats say "no" House Democratic campaign finance bill

Today was, like so many other days, a strange one underneath the dome in Springfield.

That's because today, Democrats swatted down GOP efforts to eject two campaign finance bills from committee and force votes on the legislation. Both proposals would have closed the loophole in Illinois' new campaign finance system, which neglects to limit the amount of money political parties and legislative leaders can contribute directly to candidates.

But what's strange is that one of those bills that Democrats voted against was introduced and sponsored by members of their caucus.

ICPR and other reform advocates have pushed for this loophole to be closed, and lawmakers in both chambers -- and on both sides of the aisle -- introduced legislation this year to cap leader and party giving.

But, just as Democrats ignored reformers' pleas last fall, they also have ignored efforts to close the loophole this spring. Both Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan, and Senate President John Cullerton, have prevented those so-called trailer bills from advancing out of committee or being called for a vote.

Earlier in the session, House Republican Leader Tom Cross tried -- unsuccessfully -- to force a vote on the loophole-closing campaign finance bill he's sponsoring, HB 5008. Cross used a parliamentary move to eject his bill from committee. But House rules require a 3/5 supermajority of lawmakers to vote to override the Speaker's ruling and force the bill out of committee, and the GOP minority's effort was unsuccessful.

Today, Cross attempted the same maneuver on his proposal, and with the same result. Democrats -- with the exception of Charles Jefferson from Rockford -- voted to keep Cross' campaign finance bill in committee and thus, prevent the bill from being called for a vote on the House floor.

That's where the unusual part starts.

After failing to get a vote on his campaign finance bill, Cross attempted to use the same parliamentary move to eject a similar, Democrat-sponsored bill, HB 6200. Democrats voted in lockstep to keep the bill bottled up in committee. (Even Charles Jefferson voted to keep the trailer bill in committee.)

Even HB 6200's own Democratic sponsors, Reps. Karen May and Jack Franks, voted against their bill.

(Republicans' similar effort to force a vote on the Fair Map Amendment, which is HJRCA 56, also failed.)

Republicans have signaled that they intend to make reform -- or Democrats' lack thereof -- an issue in the November general election. And the need to complete Illinois' campaign finance system, through the creation of limits on party-to-candidate giving, remains unchanged.

We urge the Democrats to allow a full vote on these campaign finance bills -- or even better, pass one of them.

Monday, April 12, 2010

ICPR Opposes Partisan Redistricting

Testimony Presented to the Senate Redistricting Committee
By the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
April 12, 2010

Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 121
Senate Joint Resolution Constitutional Amendment 104

There should be no question that Illinois needs to reform the way legislative district boundaries are drawn in Illinois, and the Senate’s convening of committee hearings in recent months and the introduction of various proposed changes indicate to us that the Senate shares our belief that the current system needs major changes.

Redistricting is an issue that is of critical importance not just to specific communities or interest groups, but also to every individual in this state. It’s not merely a process that affects Senators and members of the General Assembly, but is a cornerstone of our democracy. And because it’s an opportunity that only comes every decade, it’s important that Illinois gets it right.

While we are heartened that this committee is debating these amendments, it is regrettable that we are working in an abbreviated timeframe. We are hopeful that the feedback the committee hears today will spur improvements to the amendment introduced by the chairman, Sen. Raoul, and that ultimately the General Assembly will approve an amendment that dramatically improve the existing system.

If given the choice only between SJRCA 104, more commonly known as the Illinois Fair Map initiative, and SJRCA 121, the proposal sponsored by Senate Democrats, we prefer Illinois Fair Map. The centerpiece of that proposal is the creation of an independent, bi-partisan commission. Putting the redistricting process in the hands of an independent commission is in our judgment far superior to maintaining the status quo of allowing elected officials to draw their own districts.

Let’s all recognize that the lottery element and drafting of maps away from the public eye must change. We’re heartened that both amendments, and both parties, have acknowledged this. There are several positive elements of both plans. The expanded criteria for map drawing and particularly the explicit recognition of the need to protect minority-voting rights is critically important in a state as richly diverse as ours. Also, the transparency that is built into these plans represents a significant step forward and is fundamental to the development of an accountable redistricting model.

ICPR does not believe that drawing legislative maps to advantage one party over another and to assist with or hurt the election chances of specific incumbents should be part of the redistricting process. That’s one major reason we prefer SJRCA 104, Fair Map. It has protections against that kind of political map-making, starting with removing the pens from the hands of incumbents.

More competitive districts – drawn to represent voter, rather than incumbent interests– can result in more people being willing to run for the General Assembly. That in turn can bring more discussion of issues and involve more voters. It may or may not be detrimental to incumbents, but we believe it is better for the people of Illinois.

The mapmaking process always will involve tradeoffs with an impact on politics. However, the Fair Map plan does a good job of insulating mapmaking from the type of political tug-of-war that has little to do with the best interests of constituents. The Senate Democrats’ plan, on the other hand, does little to change patterns of incumbent protection and the drawing of maps that benefit one political party — or one candidate — over the other. Allowing a simple majority of lawmakers to create the districts that will be used for the next 10 years is unacceptable.

We don’t consider SJRCA 121 in its current form to be adequate reform. If, however, the General Assembly moves forward with SJRCA 121, you should, at a minimum, consider some of the following changes:

• Require a 3/5ths supermajority to approve all redistricting plans produced by the General Assembly.

• Require the governor to approve or veto any map approved by one or both chambers, and allow for an override of a veto by a 3/5ths vote.

• Prohibit the appointment of legislators to redistricting commissions and place additional limits on appointees to make it less likely commission members have livelihoods dependent on General Assembly action in the near future.

• Give the public an opportunity to review and comment on the qualifications of people being considered for appointment to the commissions.

• Give the Illinois Supreme Court the ability to resolve problems with an invalid map as it sees fit.

Redistricting is intended to protect voters’ rights by not just adjusting boundaries for population changes, but by creating districts that allow the public to have a real opportunity to choose their representatives. Broadly speaking, redistricting is supposed to safeguard our right to representation—the bedrock of our democracy.

We are eager to work with this committee and all members of the General Assembly to craft a proposal that will improve the districting process in 2011. However, no matter what the outcome of the amendments being discussed today, or of the citizen’s initiative, the eyes of Illinois will be following the process in 2011.

Technology will allow people and organizations the opportunity to evaluate legislative maps like never before. We believe the public will use these tools and will not tolerate the misuse and abuse of the redistricting process to put partisan interests before public interests.

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