Group pushes for redistricting reform

2014-01-22T00:00:00Z Group pushes for redistricting reformT.J. Fowler Lee Springfield Bureau nwitimes.com
January 22, 2014 12:00 am  • 

SPRINGFIELD | A new group in Illinois wants to take the legislative redistricting process out of lawmakers’ hands.

The Yes! for Independent Maps campaign is pushing to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would let an independent commission of private citizens shape the state’s legislative districts.

“It’s an understatement to say that maps are drawn behind closed doors right now,” said Michael Kolenc, the group’s campaign manager. “That’s not good for democracy and it’s not good for Illinois. This initiative adds independence to a process that everyone agrees is broken.”

To get the amendment on the November ballot, the group has to collect 298,000 signatures before May 4.

“Every day we’re collecting signatures,” Kolenc said. “Our field operation goes out on a daily basis. We also have a really robust volunteer field program organizing themselves in different parts of the state with petitions.”

He added anyone who wants to get involved should visit the group’s website at independentmaps.org, and anyone seeking to sign a petition can request one through the website.

Kolenc, a former member of U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin's staff, declined to comment on the number of signatures the group has, but said that it is on track to meet its May 4 deadline.

Under the current redistricting system, the General Assembly is tasked with mapping the state’s legislative boundaries every 10 years. If lawmakers can’t agree on a map before June 30, an eight-person redistricting commission is appointed by the four legislative leaders.

While the commission is generally split evenly along party lines, Kolenc said legislators manage to shape districts in ways that benefit themselves politically, rather than accurately mapping population changes.

“Right now, political leaders draw maps to protect incumbents and to hurt opposition,” Kolenc said. “They do that without any regard for communities of interest, whether they be racial minority communities or language minority communities.

“That’s not the right way to draw maps in this state.”

Under the group’s proposal, Illinois residents without ties to lobbyists or public office could apply to be members of an 11-person redistricting commission. After a series of eliminations, the panel would be comprised of two Republicans, two Democrats, three independents and four citizens selected by the state’s legislative leaders.

“For the first time in a long time, they would actually be choosing their state legislators rather than the other way around,” Kolenc said.

In its most recent filing with the state Board of Elections, the group reported raising more than $490,000 to help fund the effort. Among the contributors were billionaire Kenneth Griffin and his wife, Anne, who sent a $100,000 check. Griffin also has given more than $250,000 to wealthy hedge fund manager Bruce Rauner's bid for the Republican nomination for governor.

Republican-leaning business groups, including the Illinois Manufacturers Association and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, also pumped money into the effort. Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox, contributed $10,000.

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