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The most important reform of all

Tuesday, Apr 28, 2009

* As most of you know, I am a big proponent of throwing out the way Illinois draws its legislative and congressional maps. A recent Tribune editorial had this interesting tidbit…

In November’s election, incumbents got more than 75 percent of the vote in 25 of the 40 state Senate districts that were in contention, and 72 of the 118 House districts.

More than 75 percent of the vote. Because incumbents are beloved? No. Because Illinois gerrymandering — the drawing of districts for raw political gain — is a legalized protection racket. Who gets protected? Not you.

* How important is redistricing to legislators? A New Yorker story from last year, which included an observation about the day after the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001, might just turn your stomachs

For many Illinois state legislators, September 11th was not an event that required much response. The attacks occurred just before an important deadline in the redistricting process. John Corrigan, the Democratic consultant in charge of redistricting, told me that he spent September 12th talking to many legislators, Obama not among them.

“It was like nothing had happened,” he said. “Everybody came in and all they cared about was their districts. It wasn’t any one particular legislator from any one particular community. I learned a lot about state government. Their job was not to respond to September 11th. They were more worried about making sure that they had a district that they could run in for reëlection.”

On September 12th. Sheesh.

They’ll never let that one go without a gigantic fight, but a fight must be fought.

* Yet, this sort of “all or nothing” attitude in a legislative environment is just plain counter-productive

The head of Gov. Pat Quinn’s anti-corruption commission looked into the eyes of the legislature’s top leaders at the Illinois Capitol and said nothing less than a sweeping victory on a package of good-government proposals is necessary to clean up a state notoriously not ready for reform.

Removing government secrecy, overhauling campaign financing, removing politics when awarding contracts, changing the way elections are held, enforcing strong penalties for misbehavior — every one of these reforms must be approved or “there will be a hole, there will be a trap door, there will be room for the next scandal,” former federal prosecutor Patrick Collins told the leaders.

I can’t help but wonder if Collins won’t try to use this commission as a springboard to something else. I hope I’m wrong, but my potential candidate radar is strongly activated by this man.

* My syndicated newspaper column kinda got buried in Mike’s massive MS yesterday (thanks to Mike for taking over while I was in bed with flu-like symptoms). So, here’s another excerpt…

By far, the most ironic aspect of this entire post-Rod Blagojevich push to reform Illinois has to be the last paragraph of Gov. Pat Quinn’s much-praised reform commission report.

“All constitutional officers should issue executive orders, comparable to George Ryan’s Executive Order No. 2 (1999), prohibiting their campaign funds from accepting contributions from state employees under their control.”

Former Gov. Ryan issued that executive order because his crooked campaign fundraising operation at his old secretary of state’s office had triggered a federal corruption probe and he was looking for some political cover. That investigation, of course, eventually put Ryan in prison.

Gov. Quinn’s reform commission chairman Pat Collins - who presided over the insertion of that rare Ryan praise into the commission report - was the chief prosecutor at Ryan’s trial. Ryan’s executive order didn’t prevent Collins’ feds from also convicting his campaign committee.

A few years before he issued that order, Ryan pushed through widely hailed reforms of the state’s lobbyist registration and disclosure laws in the run-up to his successful 1994 re-election campaign against noted reformer… Pat Quinn. Several of Ryan’s lobbyist pals got caught up in his federal prosecution.

The irony just never stops in this state.

The lesson from this ought to be that passing new laws, no matter how enlightened and reasonable and strict, will not stop the bad guys from being bad guys. They are what they are. George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich are living proof of that hard-and-fast law of the universe.

Obviously, though, we’ve got a real problem here in Illinois, and some changes have to be made. But making those changes - and making sure they actually work and don’t break something else in the process - isn’t nearly as easy as the newspaper editorial boards and some of the reformers always make it sound.

* Related…

* Ill. Reform Commission to release final report

* Durbin: Fitzgerald will stay as prosecutor

* Rod Blagojevich defense lawyers ask judge to tap campaign fund

* Rod Blagojevich’s lawyers seek access to $2 million in campaign funds for legal fees

* Blago’s brother wants to use campaign money for defense

* Attorney Allan Ackerman may join Blagojevich legal team

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Leroy - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 7:36 am:

    Nice of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board to join the party EIGHT YEARS after the fact.

    I look forward to 2015 when I can read about how the voters were robbed blind by Illinois moving the primary date up to early February back in 2007. (And I am sure they won’t mention Barack Obama’s name in that exposition, either).

    Illinois needs to learn how to lay in the bed it has made for itself. We sure aren’t going to be changing it any time soon.

  2. - The Doc - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 7:50 am:

    Concur with Rich that redistricting is the most important and impactful reform that can be adopted.

    MJM is already denouncing computer-generated redistricting, based on lack of representation for ethnic minorities.

    Mr. Speaker, how about the notion that the current redistricting process fails to represent virtually everyone?

  3. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:26 am:

    The main political goal for my little Millstadt newsletter is to keep the town united in the upcoming redistricting. Currently the town of 3,800 is split due to the 54th Senatorial District being redrawn from 1991 to dilute Republican voters in the O’Fallon/Shiloh area. Ron Stephens said at the time “I never dreamed I would share a city with Wyvetter Younge.” My state rep is her replacement, the city council president of East St. Louis even though city council members can’t hold any other seat. But, no worries dear voters, he will resign as soon as he’s sworn in at the state level. You just go back to watching TV…nothing interesting here…

  4. - Central_IL_farm_boy - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:26 am:

    All that needs to be said (shown?) about Illinois redistricting methods.

  5. - Plutocrat03 - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:34 am:

    I remember when our local board was required to adopt an ethics ordinance by the state a decade ago. The powers that were in charge were on a path to adopt the state ordinance.

    It was a joke then and remains a joke now.

    I would propose that ethics reform be second to an impartial redistricting process.

  6. - Vote Quimby! - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:44 am:

    BTW, subscribers can see the wonderful leaders we elect in the Metro East by reading the Clayborne post…

  7. - train111 - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:59 am:

    Recently I took a large foldout map of Chicago and a magic marker and drew out the lines of Chicago’s Congressional districts on the map. What a trip that was. A drunk monkey with a paint brush could have drawn more sensible district lines!! Of course the monkey would have been unbiased and not owed anyone politcally so his districts would have made more sense!!

    I believe that reform of the reapportionment process is of the highest importance. However, it is not very attractive and draws fewer headlines than capping contributions or barring contributions from those accepting state contracts. Rich’s whole little quote about what happened September 12, 2001 shows just how far enttenched incumbents will go to preserve their spot at the public trough–and sincce this is Illinois they want to preserve it for their son or daughter for another 40 year go round as well!!

    California which drew exacly 1 Congressional District that was considered competitive last go round is using an independent redistricting commission this time. They have just as much diversity and just as many minorities as Illinois. All this fussing from Madigan etal about how ethnic minorities won’t be represented is only so much political BS aimed at muddying the topic. Maintianing their political position and their slice of thepie is the only thing the party politicos are worried about!!

    Sorry for the rant. Off my soapbox for a while.


    Barring any reform in Illionois we can all look forward again to reelecting incumbents overwhelmingly and getting some good laughs out of the district maps.


  8. - wordslinger - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 8:59 am:

    Redistricting reform is the real game-changer in Illinois politics. Can you imagine if there were competitive districts, or if incumbents had to accommodate a different point of view?

    Question is: how do we get there?

  9. - BannedForLife - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 9:04 am:

    “Removing government secrecy, overhauling campaign financing, removing politics when awarding contracts, changing the way elections are held, enforcing strong penalties for misbehavior — every one of these reforms must be approved … ”

    Maybe it’s not a “counter-productive” “all-or-nothing attitude. Maybe it’s a well-reasoned and insightful response to 100 days of intensely studying the problems.

  10. - BannedForLife - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 9:08 am:

    “I can’t help but wonder if Collins won’t try to use this commission as a springboard to something else. I hope I’m wrong, but my potential candidate radar is strongly activated by this man.”

    nice one! no reason to wait to read the report to hold off on an ad hominim attact on a commissioner via a completely unfounded whisper campaign accusing the process of politicization

  11. - Cal Skinner - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 10:00 am:

    Might not swine flu suck up the govt. reform news hole?

    Last night on ABC Channel 7 most of the first half of the six o’clock news was about swine flu.

  12. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 10:03 am:

    Illinois is corrupt, because that is how both political parties like it. They can change the culture in this state by nominating people they know will be open minded to necessary reforms regardless of any personal costs or party costs. Both parties could nominate people who are not related to current ruling families. Both parties could nominate good government candidates and give them their support when dealing with our state’s woes.

    But they won’t. Our political parties will not reform themselves, so we cannot expect reform from a General Assembly filled with people who benefit from the corrupted way things are now done.

  13. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 10:07 am:

    When you live 45 miles from work, you shouldn’t expect limousine bus service paid for by the public. This program sounds more like a new gimmick to justify additional taxes, than common sense.

  14. - Rob_N - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 10:12 am:

    ….I seem to recall us voters having an opportunity to do something about it….

    What was that question about a Constitutional Convention all about again….?


  15. - VanillaMan - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 10:49 am:

    The Gerrymander Song! - Woody Guthrie and VanillaMan

    This land was your land, and now it’s our land,
    We gerrymandered it, with our own hand;
    From incumbent father, to elect his son ‘n daughters,
    This district was drawn for my family.

    As I was campaigning, to send funds my way,
    I saw a support for, another candidate:
    I wrote the address down, into my Blackberry:
    Now it’s gerrymandered out, as you can see.

    I’ve roamed and rambled, throughout this district,
    I noted each voter, and I’ve been real strict;
    And thanks to a loophole, that I find real neat:
    I gerrymandered this land to keep our seat.

    After the Census report, we go out strolling,
    We Google addresses, and we do some polling,
    The Committee is meeting, with the maps unrolling:
    To gerrymander this especially for me.

    This districts my land, I drew it with my hand,
    It has my voters, who vote for my brand;
    50 feet wide in spots, but 500 miles long,
    Just the voters who support me and party.

    When the sun comes shining, on Election Day bringing,
    The voters are counted, and the parties are singing,
    Surprise won’t find me, since I have first found you:
    This district is mine for perpetuity!

  16. - Rick - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 11:54 am:

    “I can’t help but wonder if Collins won’t try to use this commission as a springboard to something else. I hope I’m wrong, ”

    Why would that be so bad? If the reforms he proposes are real (even if they aren’t your preferred suggestions), what’s wrong with him eventually running for something as a reformer? I’ve met him, and I think he’s a good guy with solid character. Illinois could do a lot worse than him.

  17. - train111 - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 1:01 pm:

    Van man!!


    I’ve decided to construct my new home an that strip of empty land between I-290 and I-294 which constitutes the entire width of the 4th Congressional District along the Cook-DuPage line.


  18. - Captain America - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 3:46 pm:

    I’m genrally for compact and contiguous districts, adjusted to protect and ensure appropriate represntation of minorities. The way lines are drawn for wards, legislative, and Senate districts for partisan advantage is ridiculous.

  19. - this old hack - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 5:07 pm:

    Rich, thanks for posting this because it contains one of the nuttiest quotes I have ever heard.

    Corrigan: “I learned a lot about state government (that day). Their job was not to respond to September 11th. They were more worried about making sure that they had a district that they could run in for reëlection.”

    What did he think they were going to come in and talk about? Strategic bombing targets in Afghanistan? Possible linkage with Iraq? They were state Legislators, not Federal ones. I can just imagine Shirley Jones coming in and pointing out targets where the terrorists might be.

    The remap was dealing with a state issue, and one that occurs only every decade. It also was dealing with their careers, something many of them had worked long and hard on for years.

    State government deals with state issues, John. Federal government deals with things like the military and foreign affairs. Its a good thing he learned it that day. One wonders where he was in Poli Sci 101.

  20. - disgusted again - Tuesday, Apr 28, 09 @ 9:19 pm:

    Vanillla man you are my hero. Artistic sentiment in this arena is so rare. thank you!

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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