Tuesday, January 19, 2010

New political boundaries an issue for upcoming ’10 gubernatorial campaigns

There is an issue at stake in the campaigns for governor this time around that most voters don’t think about. Some may even view the fact that it is an issue as part of the problem related to electoral politics.

I’m talking about reapportionment – the redrawing of political boundaries for Congress and the state Legislature that will take place in 2011 after the Census Bureau gives us updated figures for the U.S. (and Illinois) population.

UNDER THE PROCEDURES used by Illinois to redraw those boundaries to conform with current (rather than decade-old) population trends, the governor gets a chance to veto any attempt at a map that is approved by the General Assembly.

Which means that while some people think that Republicans would consider themselves completely successful if they were to have their party’s nominee win the U.S. Senate seat once held by Barack Obama, political operatives realize that winning the gubernatorial election in November is more important.

Having that “veto” in the control of someone of the GOP persuasion would ensure that it would take only the absolute of freak luck for legislative boundaries to be drawn in ways that benefit the Democratic Party (as they were back in 2001).

Most of the candidates haven’t talked about this issue at all, although Democrat Dan Hynes and Republican Kirk Dillard both have included in their campaign platforms some rhetoric that sounds like “good government” talk – trying to shift the drawing of boundaries from political hacks to objective sources.

PERSONALLY, I’M NOT convinced there’s anyone who could truly draw district boundaries in an “objective” manner. Which is why I have to respect the bluntness of incumbent Pat Quinn, who would like to get himself elected to a four-year term of his own – instead of being the guy who goes in the history books for finishing off Rod Blagojevich’s second term as governor.

Quinn met recently with Crain’s Chicago Business officials, and told their editorial board how he thinks the reapportionment issue will get tied into other issues – including the increase in the state income tax that Quinn has long wanted to help balance the state’s budget but which legislators have long feared.

As Quinn put it, he expects many of the Democratic majorities of the Illinois House and state Senate to become more sympathetic to his desires because they will want to see a Democrat win the campaign for governor in this year’s election.

As much as Republicans would like to have one of their own in place to “veto” a Democratic partisan plan, Democrats would love to see one of their own in place to sign such a measure into law – or at the very least veto any attempt by the GOP to implement their own partisan plan.

AS QUINN TOLD the publication, “if I win the primary, like I expect to do, I think some politicians suddenly will like me.”

Of course, Quinn threw out his own rhetoric of wanting to draw legislative and congressional district boundaries that are fair.

The only problem is that we all have to figure out now what constitutes “fair” in their minds. For everybody will be inclined to think of “fair” as something that benefits themselves. It if hurts their partisan enemies, that’s probably just a fringe benefit.

The reality of reapportionment is that there is no absolute. There is no one map that is legal and that must be picked above all others.

WHICH MEANS THAT they are always going to have partisan edges to them.. They will reflect the mood of the electorate in ways that might make some of us a bit uncomfortable.

In fact, for those people who inevitably suggest that we ought to design a computer program that would “draw” boundaries irregardless of how those districts would affect the re-election chances of incumbents, I am skeptical.

I’d want to know about the political partisan views of the programmer to figure out what aspects he (or she) considers most important. Who’s to say that such a “non-partisan” map wouldn’t be just as partisan as anything our legislators have designed in recent decades?

And yes, someone who claims to be “non-political” might go out of their way to draw up districts meant to take down incumbents. Or there might be people who resent some of the racial or ethnic factors that must be taken into account when political boundaries are drawn.

TALK OF DISTRICTS that are perfect squares and don’t have any of the quirky shapes that have been created in recent years could just be their way of wishing for the day when such factors could be ignored.

Take the situation in Illinois for the past two decades, where a district has been designed to increase the chances of a Latino representing a portion of our state in Congress. There are some people who say that the Latino population has grown to the point where two of Illinois’ districts may become Latino-influenced.

Yet a desire to keep districts that are “clean” could also result in splitting up ethnic neighborhoods to the point where no Latinos were elected. Think I’m kidding? How often have people derided the district of Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill., for looking like a pair of earmuffs?

This is going to be a key issue for the next governor to get involved with. And perhaps it is something we should give more thought to when trying to figure out who to vote for to be Illinois governor come Election Day.


EDITOR’S NOTES: Our Legislature is using this website (http://clients.ecampaigning.com/ilr/main.htm) to try to appear to be open about the process behind redistricting. For those who want to review past attempts (http://archive.fairvote.org/redistricting/reports/remanual/il.htm) at reapportionment, districts can be found.

1 comment:

Bob said...

Iowa uses a computer to draw its districts. While it is not as diverse as Ill. a computer can do the job. Districts should not be drawn to insure that anyone is elected or not elected just to insure its residents are represented in goverment.