As a lifelong Illinoisan, I have never felt prouder or safer to be a resident of this state. Gov. JB Pritzker and his administration are setting a precedent for pandemic response in a time of fear and uncertainty.
I have felt the need to defend my home state in the past; explaining why I decided not to go out of state for college and why I didn’t move immediately after I got my degree: taxes are too high, the government is corrupt and the weather is notoriously awful.
But Illinois’ aggressive and informed COVID-19 response has me feeling vindicated in my choice to remain. Our state and local government cares that we remain alive and make it through to the end of this crisis, which, as demonstrated by the state leaders in Texas and Florida, is not a given.
However, critics of Illinois government do have a point. As it stands, Illinois consistently ranks as one of the most corrupt states in the union. That’s, in large part, because we don’t elect our state officials: 80 percent of state-level races in Illinois went uncontested or were not really competitive due to partisan gerrymandering.
In Illinois, the elected officials who hold power draw districts that ensure their parties’ victories in the next election. Because many elected officials have their victories all but guaranteed, they rarely feel the voting booth consequences of the decisions (or lack of decisions) they make while in office. This grossly undermines the voting power of Illinois residents and shuts out our voices.
Illinois has demonstrated that we are not afraid to lead when it comes to disaster response. We should not be afraid to lead when it comes to ending partisan gerrymandering. Moves toward improved and less partisan gerrymandering have been passed in states such as Arizona, Colorado, California, Michigan, Missouri and Ohio.
COVID-19 has demonstrated that who we elect to lead matters, especially in times of crisis. Illinoisans’ have demonstrated that they know how to pick strong leaders in statewide races, and they should be empowered to do so up and down the ballot. Ensuring that Illinois legislators call the Fair Maps Amendment (HJRCA41 and SJRCA18) for a debate and vote would give Illinoisans a chance to end gerrymandering in Illinois — and according to the most recent Paul Simon Policy Institute Poll, 67 percent Illinoisans want this done.
Illinois has a future beyond COVID-19. We are in the middle of a public health crisis, but legislators still are constitutionally mandated to add questions onto the ballot by May 3rd. Once we are on the other side of the pandemic, Illinois legislators should continue to make Illinoisans proud by setting precedents for good government by ending partisan gerrymandering in our state.
This op-ed was originally published by Capitol News Illinois.