- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 5, 2020

February 3, 2020

Chicago Tribune

Gov. Pritzker should know: Ethics reform starts with a truly independent Map

As corruption scandals worm through the establishment Democratic Party, Gov. J.B. Pritzker finds himself with new and unexpected leverage. He can push for meaningful ethics reform in Illinois government by removing the barricades his own party’s leaders erected in the past. Those Democrats are wounded. He is not.

So will he lead on real reform?

“Restoring the public’s trust is of paramount importance,” Pritzker said during last week’s State of the State address while his two chamber leaders - House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President Don Harmon - stood at the dais behind him. “Let’s not let the well-connected and well-protected work the system while the interests of ordinary citizens are forgotten. There is too much that needs to be accomplished to lift up all the people of Illinois.”

That effort starts with drawing a fair map of legislative districts after this year’s federal census. It could happen through constitutional change.

Pritzker said as a candidate for governor he supported amending the Illinois Constitution to take the process out of the hands of lawmakers: “We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps.” More recently, he said he would not sign into law an unfair map.

But that’s not as strong a position as his call for an amendment. It gives him wiggle room to backtrack. Who defines “unfair”? Party leaders who insisted the last map was fair? If Pritzker is serious about confronting “a scourge that has been plaguing our political system for far too long,” as he said in his speech, he needs to lead the way on establishing an independent process to draw districts. Allowing legislators to keep manipulating their own boundary lines may be legal, but it’s conflicted and corrupt.

Here’s a recap of what happened 10 years ago:

Following the release of U.S. Census Bureau numbers, Speaker Madigan and then-Senate President John Cullerton began the process of drawing new boundaries for 118 House districts, which would fold into 59 Senate districts. They also redrew the boundaries of federal congressional districts.

Madigan set up a secret Springfield office with highly restricted access. To draw a map friendly to Democrats, his mapmakers drew legislative districts that included incumbents’ homes and offices, their churches, their schools, their social circles - anywhere they could count on loyal support. Then they carved up Republican-leaning areas to dilute their potency.

They even sliced out potential political opponents. In one congressional race, they protected U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Western Springs, by drawing a potential primary election opponent into a different district so he couldn’t challenge the incumbent.

The mapmakers used a highly technical, computer-driven process to ensure their control over the legislature. Lawmakers were allowed into the map room on a one-by-one basis and were warned not to discuss it publicly. Gov. Pat Quinn signed that gerrymandered map into law.

It worked to Democrats’ advantage. In both the House and Senate they eventually gained supermajorities. How’s that working out, Illinois?

Voters revolted and tried to get remap reform on the ballot by collecting more than 500,000 signatures. But Madigan’s top attorney filed a lawsuit and blocked the push for a constitutional amendment.

We hope Gov. Pritzker grasps the ultimate slap to Illinois citizens that disqualification process entailed. We hope the governor understands the corruption the current process breeds. No map can be truly fair when it’s so wholly driven by partisan politics.

Former state Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, is part of a coalition reviving a citizen-driven petition process. It’s an uphill battle. But he says the group learned from the Illinois Supreme Court’s ruling last time and is fashioning a clean, straightforward amendment that would force bipartisan cooperation on map-drawing.

His group could use a reform-minded, ethics-driven governor to elevate the charge. It would be a chance for Pritzker not only to deliver for Illinois citizens, and keep his campaign promise, but also to build a lasting legacy on true ethics reform. His opportunity grows with each indictment of another lawmaker.


February 3, 2020

(Decatur) Herald & Review

Primary elections are approaching faster than we know

March 17. Chances are you already have this date circled on your calendar.

But the notation signifying its importance is probably related to it being St. Patrick’s Day. Is there something else worth noting that doesn’t involve green beer, wearing something green so you don’t get pinched or massive helpings of corned beef and cabbage?

You could say that.

March 17 is also primary election day in Illinois. It’s our chance as citizens of the United States to have a say in who represents us in Washington D.C, Springfield and our home counties. The winners move on to the general election in November. The exact day is Nov. 3 if you want to circle it on your calendar now.

Which brings us back to the primary. It’s not too far off, and considering there are a handful of contested races, you owe it to yourself to be an informed voter.

We’re going to assume you already know this election will choose the next president, and there is a long list of Democrats doing battle in the primary for the change to challenge Donald Trump.

The primary also features five Republicans (Mark Curran Jr. of Libertyville, Tom Tarter of Springfield, Casey Chlebek of Glenview, Peggy Hubbard of Belleville and Robert Marshall of Burr Ridge) seeking to unseat U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin; two Democrats (Betsy Dirksen Londrigan of Springfield and Stefanie Smith of Urbana) are seeking the 13th Congressional District seat held by Republican Rodney Davis; and four Democrats (Craig Morton of Salem, Kevin Gaither of Charleston, Erika Weaver of Mattoon and John Hursey Jr. of Collinsville) and four Republicans (Mary Miller of Oakland, Darren Duncan of Rossville, Kerry Wolff of Altamont and Chuck Ellington of Camargo) vying to faceoff in the general election to replace retiring Republican John Shimkus as representative of the 15th Congressional District.

That’s a lot of people to get to know and figure out which one is best suited to represent your views.

While there is a lot of attention paid to the national election, the power of your vote and the more noticeable impact it has on your daily life grows the closer you get to home.

There are also a handful of contested races for judges and Illinois Senate and House seats in the area, including a battle that is shaping up to be a winner-take-all contents between Republicans Darren Bailey of Xenia and Jeff Fleming of Olney to replace retiring state Sen. Dale Righter in the 55th Senate District.

In addition to ballot questions seeking a tax increase to fund a building project that will include a new middle school in the Maroa-Forsyth School District and fund police protection in Warrensburg, voters in several Macon County communities also will decide the fate of recreational cannabis issues within their boundaries. Voters county-wide will decide the Republican candidates for circuit clerk (Jennifer Yborra and Sherry Doty) and state’s attorney (Philip Tibbs and Scott Rueter), as well as trimming the list of candidates for County Board Districts 5 and 7.

The good news is it’s never been easier to gather information on candidates. It’s also never been less of a hassle to cast your vote.

With all the early voting opportunities that exist, you can do your civic duty on a day that’s convenient to you and don’t conflict with any St. Patrick’s Day plans you might have.


February 2, 2020

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

What’s state of this state?

When Gov. J.B. Pritzker appeared Wednesday before the Illinois General Assembly, he presented the usual political folderol - one round of self-congratulations after another.

But forget about that. Self-promotion is part of the political theatrics that go with ceremonial occasions like that.

Far more important were some substantive legislative recommendations that the governor made.

He came down hard on the side of fixing this state’s relentlessly corrupt political culture with a proposal that will make powerful elected officials shudder.

He suggested that it’s finally time to move on reducing the number of taxing districts in this state, and doing so in a way that will ease too-high property taxes.

He called for the end of hiring public employees based on their political connections, not the skills they bring to the workplace.

The timing of Pritzker’s address could hardly have been worse. The state is in the midst of one of its intermittent political corruption scandals, and from all appearances, this one is going to be big.

Indeed, the day before Pritzker’s speech, former state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Chicago, pleaded guilty to bribery and tax-evasion charges and announced that he’ll be cooperating with federal investigators following multiple trails of misconduct.

It’s a virtual certainty that some members of Pritzker’s legislative audience will come under severe scrutiny.

In that context and with public confidence in the integrity of the elected elite flagging, what better time to adopt rules that lay the groundwork to clean up Illinois’ rancid politics?

“We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption - in both parties - whose presence infects the bloodstream of government,” he said. “It’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion or bribery persist. Protecting that culture or tolerating it is no longer acceptable.”

Among needed changes, he suggested that “it’s time to end the practice of legislators serving as paid lobbyists … to end the for-profit influence peddling among all elected officials at every level of government in Illinois.”

He said “elected officials shouldn’t be allowed to retire and immediately start lobbying their former colleagues. It’s wrong, and it’s got to stop.”

Pritzker hit the nail directly on the head, but it’s going to be a tough sell.

Legislators count on being able to lobby, whether they are in office or not. The governor wants to hit them in their most vulnerable spot - their wallets.

Another tough sell will be his proposal to reduce the cost of government at local levels by cutting it down to a proper size and, in doing so, reduce property taxes.

“… it’s time to put the best ideas to work from both sides of the aisle. Local governments continue to max out their levies even when they don’t need to,” he said. “There are perverse incentives in state law that encourage that. We can change the law to support local governments and lower property taxes. And with nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois, it’s time to empower local taxpayers to consolidate or eliminate them.”

Local officials won’t like that, and they’ll let their representatives in the Legislature know it. The question members of the House and Senate will have to ask themselves is to whom they owe greater loyalty - the taxpayers or their political friends and supporters who hold the affected offices?

With a compliant Democratic super-majority in both houses of the Legislature, Pritzker remains in a strong position to pass much or all of his agenda into law.

That’s why super-minority Republicans will remain, for the most part, mere observers of whatever transpires.

Some members of the GOP can, however, be expected to point out problems as Pritzker’s various costly social programs come under review, the chief one being that Illinois is deeply under financial water. Pritzker, however, made it clear that any such claims will fall on deaf ears.

He characterized those sounding a financial alarm as “carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics.” A better description would have been financial realists.

That’s why Pritzker’s speech was, ultimately, disappointing. No state facing the kind of financial challenges Illinois does can be as healthy as he suggested it is.

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