Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Now, we wait!

The process by which the Illinois General Assembly will create new boundaries for legislative and congressional districts is moving along at its own pace – even though those of us who are interested to see how our political representation will be altered don’t have a clue yet what is being done.

That is the nature of the reapportionment process, regardless of who is in charge. Anybody who thinks the Democratic leadership of the Illinois Legislature is being more secretive than the Republicans would have been, if they were in a position of authority, is being ridiculous. States where Republican officials prevail are being just as territorial about their own political boundaries.

THAT IS WHY I thought it was absurd for the Republican members of the Illinois House of Representatives’ redistricting committee (which gets its own website to provide us with gobbledygook – but no data – about the process’ progress) to use a series of hearings to rant about being excluded from the process.

Those hearings are nearly complete, and I only made it out to one of them (held at South Suburban College in South Holland). Although from the various reports I have read, it seems that the one hearing I saw was representative of the process, including the fact that it was loaded up with local legislators to create the impression that local officials actually have a clue as to what is happening – rather than being told what will happen by Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, and his staff.

Local political people testified about how they didn’t want their respective hometowns split up among various legislative districts, while people from the parts of rural Illinois who live near the Chicago area complained about having suburban-based legislators whose districts extended well into their home areas.

In short, they want political representation from people who will put their hometowns first.

I WILL GIVE one official some credit for being honest. State Rep. Jim Durkin, R-Willow Springs, came right out and told those people that such considerations are not always possible to honor and that, invariably, some communities will have to be split up among several districts. The unspoken  part is because of the need to take into account factors such as equal population and ethnic/racial factors that must be achieved under federal law whenever political boundaries are re-done.

So there are going to be some far-sprawling political districts concocted in 2011, regardless of how much it offends some of the local residents.

According to the Herald-News newspaper of Joliet, speculation at the hearing held in Joliet included talk that Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.’s South Side and suburban congressional district will extend into Will County so as to take the site of the proposed airport near Peotone. Jackson’s political pet project would fall more thoroughly under his control.

Not that such speculation is official. In fact, nothing is official. Because the behavior of the redistricting committee has been overly condescending.

THEY SAT. THEY nodded their heads in a semi-approving manner while people talked. There were instructions given about how people can try drawing up their own maps as suggestions, and can file them with the redistricting committee where they will be “looked at” by officials.

No guarantee that they will be seriously considered. But people were given a chance in recent weeks to rant and rage.

Just like this week during what is likely the final redistricting committee hearing. That is when Latino activists, including the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, presented their own map, saying they think the Latino population of Illinois (just over 2 million, and now officially larger than Illinois’ African-American population) is worthy of 28 legislative districts.

But they will compromise and “settle” for 20. Which, in and of itself, would be an increase from the 12 districts that currently exist in the Illinois Legislature (out of 177 combined Illinois House and state Senate members).

ONCE AGAIN, NO guarantee that political people will listen. I can already hear the rhetoric from officials when we do finally see a map (in the few hours just before the Legislature approves it) about how they had to “balance out” various interests that wanted “something” out of the redistricting process.

They’re not even giving straight answers about when this process will be complete. Redistricting committee Chair Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, said she can’t put a timeline on the process.

Not that the legislative staff that supports the committee is of any help.

Ask them when things will happen, and they will recite from memory the official calendar of dates related to redistricting – the one that says the Legislature has until June 30 to approve a map on its own, then will create a bipartisan redistricting commission during the summer – with a lottery by the Illinois secretary of state to be held in September if that commission can’t reach a deal.

THAT IS THE official process, none of which matters this time around because of the fact that Democratic leadership controls the whole thing and is prepared to ramrod its version of political boundaries well before then.

State Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie, told reporter-types in Joliet that he has no reason to think the process won’t be done by the time the Legislature completes its session this spring in late May.

Which is an incredibly obvious statement to make, but a true one. Which may make Lang the only person throughout the redistricting process who gave us even the slightest bit of information about how this map is being drawn up.


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