Politicians lie to get elected.
That’s hardly startling. And, in a state like Illinois, with its long and sordid history of corruption, that observation is about as newsworthy as saying that the pyramids are old and big.
Still, one can’t help but be disappointed when politicians back away from their word.
A case in point is Gov. JB Pritzker, who ran for office on a platform of reforming the state’s redistricting process.
During the last gubernatorial election, Springfield reporter Rich Miller surveyed every candidate seeking his or her party’s respective nomination.
He asked the candidates if they would veto any redistricting measure not created by an independent commission.
Here’s how Pritzker responded.
“Yes, I will pledge to veto. We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map. That designated body should reflect the gender, racial and geographic diversity of the state and look to preserve the Voting Rights Act decisions to ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”
This wasn’t one of those off-the-cuff remarks. Pritzker responded in writing to the question after having some time to think about it.
But, today he is backtracking from that commitment.
Here’s what he’s saying now.
“Well, as I said, I will veto an unfair map. I have also said that in order for us to have an independent commission, we needed to have a constitutional amendment, something that would actually change the way the process operates today in the Constitution. That did not happen. So now, as we reach the end of this session and I look to the legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map, I’ll be looking to it for its fairness. And that’s something that’s vitally important for our state, as an effect on the next 10 years and representation throughout the state.”
The governor’s original pledge wasn’t predicated on a constitutional amendment. An independent commission can be formed by legislation or even a joint resolution.
And, hey, he sure hasn’t been banging the drum for a constitutional amendment since he entered office. The voters were hoodwinked.
Instead, Pritzker is kowtowing to Democratic leaders in the Legislature. The current process allows lawmakers to choose their voters rather than voters choosing their lawmakers.
“I don’t think he realized, when he made the statement, just how important this is to legislators,” said longtime statehouse observer Mike Lawrence. “He wants to get his proposals through the legislature, and that isn’t going to happen if he angers them by vetoing their map.”
Illinoisans became far too familiar with this sort of mendacity under Gov. Bruce Rauner and Gov. Rod Blagojevich. It’s disappointing that Pritzker has joined their ranks.
Pritzker Spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh did not respond to requests seeking an explanation for the governor’s change of heart.
Politicians distort and stretch their districts into strange shapes for two reasons: to get more seats for their political party and to get re-elected without needing to run a substantial campaign.
Potential candidates don’t run because they look at how a district has been drawn and know they can’t possibly win.
Just consider this: a 2014 study by Ballotpedia found that only 40 percent of Illinois lawmakers even had an opponent in the preceding election.
By comparison, during the same election cycle, 100 percent of Michigan legislators were in contested races. And, California and Minnesota had competitive races in more than 90 percent of their legislative districts.
Worse yet, in at least half of the “contested” legislative races in Illinois, the incumbent only faced nominal opposition.
As for Pritzker’s pledge to veto any “unfair” map approved by lawmakers, Lawrence said the odds of a partisan body such as the General Assembly approving a neutral, fair map are “slim to none.”
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin was more blunt.
“It will happen,” Durkin said, “when hell freezes over.”
That said, I have no doubt that, if the Republicans controlled the process in Springfield, they would be behaving in the same manner as Pritzker and Democrats are now behaving in the Legislature.
Voters deserve to have choices when they vote and a governor who keeps his commitments.
Editor’s note: Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse journalist. He works as a freelance reporter in the Springfield area and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.