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Thursday, Sept. 8, 2016 12:18 am

Unfair politics over fair maps

PHOTO BY ALAN SOLOMON/TNS
Whenever you see a statement from the Democratic Party of Illinois, you can feel supremely confident that House Speaker Michael Madigan, the party’s longtime chairman, approves of the sentiment.

And the same goes for the Illinois Republican Party and Gov. Bruce Rauner, who accounts for 95 percent of the party’s total fundraising since Jan. 1. No way will that party deliberately say anything that is in any way contrary to the governor’s wishes.

Last Monday, not long after former Gov. Pat Quinn announced he would put forth his own redistricting reform plan, the Illinois Republican Party sent out a blistering press release denouncing Quinn without even waiting to hear what he said: “Pat Quinn is the very reason Illinois doesn’t already have fair maps,” a party spokesman was quoted as saying. “In 2011, Quinn signed into law the gerrymandered district lines we have today. Instead of standing up for reform when he was in charge of the state, Quinn worked with Mike Madigan to rig the political system in their favor. We don’t need Pat Quinn to fix Pat Quinn’s map.”

First of all, the Republicans do make a valid point. Quinn did indeed sign the current map into law.

But Gov. Rauner has been spending time traveling the state and appearing on Chicago TV saying he wants redistricting reform enacted into law. If he were really serious about that goal, wouldn’t he be embracing (or, at least, not harshly denigrating) all comers, no matter what their history or party affiliation, or at least wait until he hears them out?

The remap reform issue has been completely weaponized against the Democrats in this year’s campaign. That’s mainly the Democrats’ own fault. They could’ve passed their own plan this year (or last year, or whenever), but chose not to.

And, it turns out, after reading Quinn’s plan, it may not be all that great. Illinois Supreme Court justices would appoint 11 members to a special redistricting commission and approval of a new map would require seven of those 11 votes. But what happens if they can’t come to an agreement? The proposal is silent, and Quinn’s spokesman didn’t even respond when I asked that question.

Quinn’s proposal also declares that the new commission will have no more than six members from any one political party. The Republicans can easily see right through that one. The Democratic majority on the court could appoint six Democrats and any number of Democratic sympathizers who can be credibly labeled as “independents.” Quinn did this very thing himself when he was governor.

But the Republican Party and Gov. Rauner didn’t know about these shortcomings when they sent out that press release the day before Quinn’s unveiling. It was a purely knee-jerk, partisan reaction. And it undermined the governor’s public claims that he’s searching for a bipartisan solution to this mess.

Again, the governor, his party apparatchiks and his legislative candidates are not wrong to blame Madigan or Senate President John Cullerton or rank-and-file Democrats for the lack of action on redistricting reform this year. Have at it. You use what works in campaigns, and this works.

Indeed, Republican legislative candidates have been doing their very best to kick up as much dust as possible since the redistricting opinion was handed down. The common thread, of course, is Speaker Madigan.

“Mike Madigan and the career politicians in Springfield have made a mess of our state, and it is going to take fair maps and term limits to clean it up,” said Tony McCombie, the GOP challenger to Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale. Hers was one of countless statements I’ve seen from Republican candidates throughout the state, and the governor was in her district’s main media market the same day to amplify his party’s case against the ruling.

But knocking down a proposal before it even gets out of the gate because of the sponsor is wrong and implies that no idea proposed by any Democrat with the slightest bit of taint on this topic will ever be acceptable in the least. And that more than implies that the governor wants a campaign issue far more than he wants an actual solution – which is exactly what the Democrats have suspected from the very beginning.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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