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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013 12:00 am

‘Trading Places,’ the Illinois General Assembly edition

State legislators are too isolated in their districts. Isolation prevents elected officials from hearing views from a variety of different Illinoisans. I have a solution for this breakdown in communication. My idea will encourage elected officials to understand the impact of the legislation they propose.

I propose requiring upstate legislators to trade places with downstate legislators. The television shows “Trading Places” or “Wife Swap” can be replicated to pair up elected officials, Democrats and Republicans, and place them in each other’s districts for a minimum of two weeks. While in a different district, each legislator would have to hold two town hall meetings and have conversations with Illinoisans they wouldn’t ordinarily meet. The majority of time should be spent touring the entire district and witnessing firsthand whether their rhetoric spoken on the floor of the General Assembly is right for all Illinoisans or just for some.

Let’s take State Sen. Bill Brady (R) from the 44th district and have him trade places with Senate President John Cullerton (D) in the 6th District. Brady has pushed for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage in Illinois. I think it would be nice for him to go to Chicago’s 44th ward and visit the area called “Boystown,” where a large majority of the residents are members of the LGBT community. Brady would soon learn that his ferocious attack on a person’s civil rights has a large effect on real Illinoisans. John Cullerton, who voted to raise the income tax, would then visit parts of the 44th district, such as Morton. While in Morton the Senate president would hear how the raising of the state income tax has created an additional burden on Illinois families. Morton voters won’t sugarcoat their dissatisfaction.

Let’s take State Sen. Sam McCann (R) from the 50th District and have him trade places with State Sen. Donne Trotter (D) in the 17th District. McCann has been a strong supporter of gun rights, and has called for a state constitutional amendment to make Illinois the most pro-Second Amendment state in the union. It would be fitting to place McCann on the south side of Chicago and have him express his views with mothers and fathers of victims of gun violence, and have a discussion on whether or not more guns would be the solution. Trotter will hold town hall meetings with residents of Jacksonville and Pittsfield, and hear from people firsthand that limiting their rights under the Constitution is unacceptable. Voters in the 50th district don’t support a one-size-fits-all approach.

Now let’s take State Sen. Chapin Rose (R) from the 51st District and have him trade places with State Sen. Toi Hutchinson (D) in the 40th District. Rose has sponsored legislation to cut funding for social programs that include food stamps. The 40th district would be a great place for him to hold a town hall and hear the outrage from residents when told that their benefits will be cut if Rose’s legislation becomes law. Hutchinson would like to increase funding for social programs and is pushing to allow SNAP beneficiaries to purchase food from non-traditional fresh food markets. Hutchinson probably won’t feel at home in some of the affluent parts of Champaign, where she will have to explain to these taxpayers how their hard-earned money is potentially going to others who seek to take advantage of the system.

It is my hope that each elected official will leave the adopted district and return home with a new understanding. Being the conservative hero or the liberal hero sometimes ends up hurting real people. Elected officials shouldn’t find comfort in being isolated within their districts. I challenge Illinoisans to elect people who aren’t afraid of new ideas, new solutions, and people who have the ability to be flexible.

Adonnis Shaw is a member of the Jacksonville City Council, representing the First Ward.


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