Friday, November 11, 2011

Short-lived victory on gambling? Will city redistricting even get that much?

It was hard to take much joy in the failure this week of the Illinois House of Representatives to approve a measure that would still significantly increase the amount of legal gambling opportunities in this state.

We might be able to point to seven legislators (at least) who voted for the original bill to add five new casinos (including the long-desired Chicago city casino that will make the existing casinos look cheap by comparison), but who failed to support the revised gambling measure that was voted on this week.

YET WHEN THE Illinois House immediately announces that they are adding on at least one more day to the legislative process (implying that more time could be added on if necessary), it becomes obvious that some forces are determined to see this issue get enacted – and aren’t about to let the legislators go home until they vote the “right” way.

As in the way desired by the gambling interests, who are feeding off the desperation state government these days feels for new revenue sources in order to gain the support of legislators who under normal conditions would know better.

So I can’t say I was all that interested in seeing if legislators take a second crack at the issue on Thursday. Even if that failed (and they wound up not even calling it up for a vote), they could always come up with a new revised measure that could get a vote come Nov. 29 – the date that the fall veto session will advance into its (unorthodox) third week of activity.

Personally, I hope that the session only continues for one more day – and that the official reason for the extension (trying to determine what to do with a tax cut package under consideration) is the only significant act of business on that date.

FOR IT LITERALLY brings to mind (mine at least) the line often attributed to Benjamin Franklin (although some claim it for Mark Twain) – “No man’s life, liberty or fortune is safe while our legislature is in session.”
And so long as there are elements who desire more casinos so intensely as some of our politicians (including Mayor Rahm Emanuel), there is always the chance of a sordid deal being cut.

Which means that those people who were eager Wednesday night to declare Gov. Pat Quinn a political victor because the casino expansion bill fell two votes shy of approval (and very short of the number of votes needed for a future veto override) were very premature.

I almost envision any casino expansion bill as being the governmental equivalent of the Frankenstein monster – it will be brought back to life no matter how dead we want to believe it to be.

YET NO MATTER how ugly this political fight at the Statehouse has become, the fact is that we’re in for an uglier battle in coming weeks at City Hall. The issue at stake there is redistricting.

The City Council has until Dec. 1 to approve boundaries for the city’s 50 wards for the next decade. Not that anyone is going to lose their aldermanic seat anytime soon – the next elections aren’t until 2015.

But it doesn’t seem that our elected officials are anywhere near close to agreement. There won’t be a brief moment of victory for anyone here until this issue is truly over – as in settled by the courts.

For it seems that all the different factions have settled into their own positions on how much of the City Council they want to have control over. There doesn’t seem to be much room for compromise.

CONSIDERING THAT THIS issue is about political survival (rather than having spoils to split up from casinos), it will be taken personally.

Just this week, the Latino aldermen came up with their own ward map – one that creates the likelihood of 14 Latino aldermen and two other wards where there would be a very good chance either of getting a Latino elected or being able to influence what a non-Latino alderman does while in office.

This comes at a time when black aldermen came up with their own boundaries earlier this year that protect all their incumbents for 19 black wards – even though people are fond of pointing out that the bulk of the city’s 200,000-person population loss during the past decade was almost entirely due to African-American people leaving the city for the south suburbs, or just the South.

As in Dixie!

THE BEHAVIOR OF the remaining white aldermen in drawing up the Chicago-area legislative and congressional districts was to preserve the status quo as much as possible. Which means I doubt they’re about to change that sentiment when it comes to the ward maps – which for many Chicago political observers are the only ones that really matter.

And let’s not forget the growing Asian population – which currently is  represented in the council only by 47th Ward Alderman Ameya Pawar. That’s a lot of people preparing to fight for the limited number of puzzle pieces in the Chicago City Council.

Which means we may well have some political people returning home from Springfield and the fall veto session battles, only to immerse themselves in a redistricting brawl.

All of which serves to reiterate the truth in that political maxim often attributed to Otto von Bismarck – “Law and sausage are two things you do not want to see being made.”

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