Partisan redistricting of Illinois state legislative district maps has created continuing partisan bias in election outcomes while making it far less likely that voters will have a choice between candidates of both major parties in the general election.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill., May 15, 2013 — A growing coalition of prominent and diverse organizations today announced a grassroots campaign to fix the broken process of drawing General Assembly districts in Illinois.
CHANGE Illinois! launched the exploratory phase of an effort aimed at giving voters in the November 2014 election the opportunity approve a state Constitutional amendment distancing legislators from the map-drawing process by establishing a nonpartisan, independent commission to create fair, representative districts.
CHANGE is a diverse, statewide coalition representing everyday residents, business and civic leaders, and nonprofit organizations from around the state and across the political spectrum demanding fair, honest government. Much of its leadership is drawn from the coalition of more than 50 groups representing 2 million Illinoisans whose policy analysis and public education helped lead to the 2009 passage of Illinois’ first major campaign finance reform in a generation.
“Changing the way Illinois does redistricting is the best, surefire path to a more fair and effective government in Illinois,” said George A. Ranney, Jr., Chair of the CHANGE Illinois! Board of Directors. “Our proposal will bring sunlight to the redistricting process and make our elected representatives more responsive and accountable to the voters who elect them.”
The amendment would create a citizens’ redistricting commission made up of a group of Illinoisans who, via a standardized qualification process, would reflect the state’s geographic and demographic diversity. It would replace the flawed provision in the 1970 Constitution, which has resulted every 10 years in either a highly partisan map approved by the legislature and governor, or one decided by a partisan name drawn out of a hat as a “tie-breaker.”
Through a politically neutral process, the commission would draw new lines for legislative districts every decade, following the release of U.S. Census data, beginning in 2021. That process would ensure that district lines reflect shifts in population over time and fairly represent the people of Illinois.
“Our draft amendment would create a fair, open redistricting process that allows the people of Illinois to hold politicians accountable,” said Deborah Harrington, Vice Chair. “We will give Illinoisans’ the chance to prove that their votes matter.”
“Redistricting in Illinois is still a back-room process, one that fails to give the people of Illinois the transparency and accountability they deserve,” said Board Member Sylvia Puente, executive director of the Latino Policy Forum. “Our nonpartisan redistricting commission would bring the process out into the open, where it belongs, clearing the way for a more diverse candidate pool of public servants to lead.”
Studies show that Illinois citizens are tired of corruption and want a say in how to improve their government. According to a Simon Institute Poll, a whopping 77 percent of Illinoisans believe corruption in Illinois government is widespread. Yet partisan redistricting currently prevents voters from holding politicians accountable. According to State Board of Elections data, only 4 percent of legislative races from 2002-2010 were competitive, and in nearly half of elections, there wasn’t even a challenger. Last year’s General Assembly election was even less competitive.
“Right now, the politicians are choosing their voters instead of the people choosing their legislators,” said Peter Bensinger, Vice Chair. “Legislators owe their allegiance to the leaders who draw the maps. Under our proposal, they will owe their allegiance to the voters.”
Newton Minow, former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and senior counsel at Sidley Austin LLP, as well as a founding member of the CHANGE coalition, added, “The best way to clean up Illinois government is to put the voters in charge – and here is the way to do it.”
In the coming weeks, CHANGE Illinois! will meet with as many Illinois residents as possible to solicit their ideas to finalize the amendment text and the plan to put the reform amendment before voters in 2014.
“The current redistricting process is conducted behind closed doors. Our proposed process—and our entire campaign—will be open and transparent,” said Ryan Blitstein, CHANGE Illinois! President and CEO. “We will bring together community leaders, people at the grassroots, and everyone in between in support of redistricting reform.”
At the beginning of June, the group will make revisions and place the final amendment language on petitions. Thousands of volunteers will begin collecting the 298,399 signatures needed to place the initiative on the ballot. The signature-collection process will continue through April 2014, and then Illinoisans will get to vote for fair change in state government on Nov. 4, 2014.
The following organizations have signed on to support CHANGE’s redistricting reform initiative:
- Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Chicago
- Better Government Association
- Business and Professional People for the Public Interest
- Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice
- Common Cause Illinois
- Illinois Campaign for Political Reform
- Illinois Public Interest Research Group
- Latino Policy Forum
- Metropolis Strategies
- Reboot Illinois
CHANGE (the Coalition for Honest and New Government Ethics) Illinois! is a coalition of diverse civic, business, and nonprofit organizations demanding fair, honest government. Over time, the coalition will address a range of institutional and policy issues in pursuit of a fair, effective democratic process in Illinois. The CHANGE redistricting initiative is a campaign to create an amendment that would reform the way the state’s legislative district maps are drawn. For more information about the initiative and a full list of supporters, visit www.ChangeTheDistricts.org.
In the wake of the Blagojevich corruption trial, voters want to know where candidates stand on electoral and government reforms
CHICAGO, IL – The CHANGE Illinois! coalition has asked every candidate for Governor and the General Assembly to answer 20 straightforward questions on a range of electoral and government reform issues.
Created in conjunction with eight reform organizations, the CHANGE Illinois! questionnaire seeks information about candidates’ opinions on a variety of issues, including limits on campaign contributions by legislative leaders, judicial selection, lobbying, and redistricting.
The reform activists and the CHANGE Illinois! member organizations will press all of the candidates to answer all of the questions, and voters will be able to view and compare candidate responses at www.ChangeIL.org well before the Nov. 2 general election. The website also will highlight the candidates NOT answering all of the questions.
“With one ex-governor in prison and a second one recently convicted, the people of Illinois want to know what the candidates for public office propose to do to restore faith in our government,” said Peter Bensinger, a CHANGE Illinois! co-chair and a former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration. “If you want to represent us in Springfield, you should be willing and able to answer these questions and follow through, if elected.”
CHANGE Illinois! is a growing coalition of civic, business, labor, professional, nonprofit and philanthropic organizations and individuals. Members include AARP, Chicago Urban League, The Civic Federation, Community Renewal Society, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Latino Policy Forum, United Congress of Community & Religious Organizations, and Voices for Illinois Children.
“Illinoisans are increasingly concerned about the state’s fiscal crisis and its impact on residents. This isn’t just about the budget crisis, it’s also a crisis of confidence in the state’s ability to fix these problems,” said Bob Gallo, Senior State Director for AARP Illinois. “AARP has 1.7 million members in Illinois. Ninety percent of them are registered voters, and over 70 percent of them vote in every election. Our members want to know what solutions candidates will bring to the table to put Illinois back in the right track, as they ponder their vote for November’s mid-term election.”
The questionnaire was developed with the help of the following reform organizations: Better Government Association, Business and Professional People for the Public Interest, Chicago Appleseed Fund for Justice, Citizen Advocacy Center, Common Cause Illinois, Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, Illinois Public Interest Research Group, and Protestants for the Common Good.
“Thanks to the triple whammy of the economy, the budget and the Blagojevich trial, Illinois voters in 2010 have a lot of questions and want straight answers from the candidates,” said Deborah Harrington, former president of the Woods Fund of Chicago and a CHANGE Illinois! co-chair. “We’re giving them a head start with 20 good questions that all candidates should answer.”
The CHANGE Illinois! coalition was formed in 2009 in support of campaign contribution limits. Later that year, legislation creating the state’s first-ever limits system was passed. The contribution caps take effect Jan. 1, 2011.
Organizations and individuals in the CHANGE Illinois! coalition hold a range of positions on issues of importance to Illinois. The coalition as a whole supports expanding the enacted limits to include contributions by legislative leaders and political parties to candidates in the general election, and it supports increased transparency and public involvement as the boundary lines for legislative districts are adjusted following the 2010 Census. Some members of the coalition have taken positions on other issues covered in the questionnaire, but the coalition as a whole has not taken positions on topics of the other survey questions.
“Too many candidates are reluctant to take a stand on issues,” said George Ranney, a co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. “Some may be afraid they will lose votes and others afraid their supporters will expect them to follow through if they win the election.
“Wouldn’t it be great to turn the tables,” Ranney continued, “and make them afraid not to answer these questions?”
CHICAGO – Leaders of the CHANGE Illinois! coalition on Thursday said the federal criminal indictment of former Gov. Rod Blagojevich has done additional damage to the state’s reputation and urged state legislators to act quickly to enact limits on campaign contributions.
“Rod Blagojevich is just the latest in a very long list of officeholders who have disgusted and disappointed the voters of Illinois,” said Peter Bensinger, a co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and a former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. “This should be a wake-up call to state legislators in Springfield. Open your eyes to the need for real reform and vote to limit how much anyone can contribute to political campaigns.”
CHANGE Illinois! is a coalition of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations aligned to bring government integrity to Illinois, and the coalition is calling for replacing the state’s unregulated campaign finance system with one modeled after the contribution limit system in place for federal elections and in almost all other states.
“How many more public officials have to go to prison before the people we send to Springfield get serious about campaign finance reform?” asked Deborah Harrington, a co-chair of CHANGE Illinois! and President of the Woods Fund of Chicago. “Illinoisans deserve fair and honest government, and voters must demand change in the way all elections are funded.”
CHANGE Illinois! has opened a toll-free hotline (1-800-719-3020) allowing voters to call their legislators and register their support for campaign contribution limits.
CHANGE Illinois! will hold a rally for reform outside the James R. Thompson Center, 100 W. Randolph St., Chicago, at 10 a.m. Thursday, April 9.
“The charges detailed in the Blagojevich indictment are repugnant, and the international headlines are going to cause corporations around the world to think twice about doing business here,” Bensinger said. “We need to restore the public’s faith in government and demonstrate to investors that reform will replace pay-to-play as the dominant force in Illinois politics.”
For additional information about CHANGE Illinois! and a list of member organizations, go to www.ChangeIL.org.
LEADERS UNITE TO END CULTURE OF POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN ILLINOIS
CHICAGO – A coalition of civic, business, professional, non-profit and philanthropic organizations on Thursday launched a campaign to combat Illinois’ culture of political corruption and urged other citizens to join in the battle to demand honest government.
The first priority of the non-partisan CHANGE Illinois coalition will be to reduce the influence of large campaign contributors by enacting strict limits on the amount of money that can be given to candidates and political action committees.
CHANGE Illinois advocates replacing the state’s unregulated campaign finance system with one modeled after the contribution limit system in place at the federal level and in almost all other states. Contribution limits, combined with more frequent public reporting of contributions and strengthened oversight of campaign finance laws, would put Illinois on the road to real reform.
CHANGE Illinois will be led by co-chairs Peter Bensinger, former Administrator of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency; Deborah Harrington, President, Woods Fund of Chicago; and George A. Ranney, President and CEO of Chicago Metropolis 2020. The growing coalition includes an impressive number of outstanding citizens and organizations prepared for a long-term commitment to reform. (A list of the founding coalition members is attached, and more will be added in the future.)
“AARP has nearly 2 million members in Illinois, and the vast majority of them vote – so when the issues we represent them on like health care reform and fair utility rates don’t move forward, you’ve got to wonder why,” said Bob Gallo, AARP Illinois State Director, and a member of the coalition’s steering committee. “For too long, we’ve seen business as usual stand in the way of progress as it should be. Something has got to change.”
In partnership with its members, the CHANGE Illinois coalition plans to build a grassroots network that will keep the spotlight on reform. We will offer a blueprint for change and help citizens who share our concerns become active in the state’s growing reform movement. A statewide speakers bureau, policy maker briefings, community forums, editorial board meetings, a web-based petition drive, advertising, and online communications will be used to educate citizens and mobilize public support for the steps needed to restore confidence in the political system. To initiate this effort, the coalition has launched a website (www.CHANGEIL.org).
“Illinoisans wanting to change the status quo of recurring scandals must step forward and press their legislative representatives for the change that is so desperately needed,” Bensinger said. “Illinois has many outstanding and well-meaning public servants, and we know many will join us in this mission. However, their success in reforming the political system requires an involved electorate.
“A succession of high profile political scandals has left Illinoisans dismayed with politics as usual in Illinois,” Bensinger said. “We have witnessed an alarming retreat from the basic values essential to a well-functioning democracy: honesty, transparency, accountability, responsiveness, and fairness.”
“The rules of the political process have been deliberately manipulated and applied in ways that nearly always advantage incumbent officeholders, large donors, and political insiders,” Harrington said. “We need new rules that will advantage ordinary citizens who have neither the resources nor influence to be heard.
“Corruption in government impacts all of us,” Harrington continued. “It leads to wasteful spending; makes it more expensive to do business in Illinois; and thwarts an honest debate of critical issues.”
“Historically in Illinois, voices with influence in Springfield have spoken only about legislation that matters to their organization or interest,” Ranney said. “Today, we stand with long-time advocates of reform and give increased volume to their voices. We recognize that changing Illinois for the better – whether it be better schools, roads or any other important issue – requires changing government.
“Anyone interested in changing government, especially in Illinois, understands that the first target must be the money that drives the election system and too often influences legislative debates and fuels corruption and fraud,” Ranney said.
Cynthia Canary, Director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR), said the creation of the coalition and the determination of its members is cause for optimism but also a reflection of the attitude of the general public.
“Recent polling found a majority of Illinoisans believe corruption is common among public officials, but they also believe that reform efforts are worthwhile,” Canary said. “About three-quarters of Illinois voters said an overhaul of our weak campaign finance regulation system would make state government work better, and similar overwhelming majorities favor limiting the amount of money that can be contributed to political campaigns.”
“Just as removing one officeholder will not clean up all of government, the coalition recognizes that campaign finance reform is not an elixir to the problem,” Harrington said. “However, setting contribution limits is the best place to begin a long-term effort to make state government more representative of Illinoisans and more responsive to all citizens.”
The coalition members agree that there are many avenues for political reform, including an end to gerrymandering of legislative districts, more openness in government, more public information about the economic interests of government officials, and tighter regulation of lobbying. Those and other ideas will be examined in the coming months.
Anyone interested in joining the coalition or learning more about its mission should visit its website (www.ChangeIL.org).