House Speaker Michael Madigan cares most about three House votes: The votes every two years for both the next Speaker and the House rules; and the vote every 10 years on the new state legislative district maps.
But prying control of those maps away from Speaker Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton is next to impossible, as proponents of a constitutional amendment to do so have found. Drawing the new map is the ultimate way to reward your friends and punish your enemies. (Keep in mind here that I am not talking about congressional maps. That should be part of a national solution.)
Anyway, when I watched video of JB Pritzker pressed by reporters in Chicago about how much he really supported a truly independent remap process, it didn't seem to me that he was willing to go to the wall for his beliefs.
We've seen this movie before. Former Governor Pat Quinn talked a good game about reforming the state legislative map-making process and then signed the remap legislation drafted by Madigan and Cullerton.
I decided to test Pritzker's resolve by asking him and the rest of the gubernatorial candidates whether they'd veto any legislative redistricting legislation that wasn't truly independent. Pritzker pledged his veto while Chris Kennedy and Senator Daniel Biss both said they wouldn't take such a pledge. (Governor Bruce Rauner and Representative Jeanne Ives also said they'd veto.)
Kennedy and Biss are just flat-out wrong here.
A governor cannot cajole the House Speaker and the Senate President into giving up control of "their" maps to people they don't know and trust. Quinn tried that and totally failed. The only way the leaders will take this step is if they believe there is a credible chance that the Republicans could draw the new maps.
How could that happen? If a governor vetoes the remap bill and he’s not overridden and the resulting process winds up deadlocked (as it always has before), that’ll force a drawing out of Abe Lincoln's hat to decide which party gets control.
The map-making powers aren’t completely about the leaders maintaining numerical control of their respective chambers – although building in lots of extra partisan cushion with gerrymandering is most certainly right at the top.
This is also about their own districts, particularly for Madigan. Let somebody else draw the map and he might wind up in a district with few precincts in his beloved 13th Ward. He lives close to Chicago's southwestern border, so his new district could wind up being heavily suburban and more anti-Madigan. Who really knows? And that unanswerable question is the whole point of Madigan making sure anything independent is kept as far away as possible from drawing the next map.
Senator Biss dismissed my question by claiming that the Illinois Constitution puts legislators, their staffs, and their allies into the map-making process. Actually, the Constitution just says the General Assembly has to pass a new redistricting bill every 10 years. The legislature can always pass a bill to set up an independent remap system, free from involvement by the powers that be. Illinois doesn't need a constitutional amendment to have an independent map-drawing process.
"Instead of pledging to veto," Biss wrote, "as governor, I would advocate for a true independent redistricting process." Right. Just like Pat Quinn. You'll get what you'll get, and you'll eat it and you'll like it.
Chris Kennedy came up with the surprisingly lame excuse that taking a pledge to veto a district map which isn't independently drawn "fails to take into account the situation which may exist at a time of passage."
Um … . Huh? What "situation" might that be? If you believe that voters should choose their legislators and not the other way around, you gotta be willing to go to bat for them. This isn’t like holding the budget hostage, which can actually get people killed. This is about recognizing when you’ve got the upper hand in a purely political battle.
It just seems weird to me that the two guys who are currently strutting around the state loudly demanding that Madigan step down as party chairman are so loathe to upset the Velvet Hammer on this topic.
At the same time, a candidate who seems afraid to even utter Madigan's name is willing to say he'll back up his words with deeds in order to challenge one of Speaker Madigan's most powerful weapons. Hey, you may not trust Pritzker to actually follow through, but at least we have him on record, unlike those other two guys.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.