Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Republicans trying to bail out the Redistricting Amendment?

That's what the Illinois Observer is reporting this morning. Specifically, according to the linked post, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno have asked the Illinois State Board of Elections to reconsider the impossibly tight deadline imposed on Yes for Independent Maps to 'rehabilitate' signatures tested and found wanting on its petitions to place the Illinois Independent Redistricting Amendment on the November ballot.

The Observer piece makes this out to be a normal Republicans vs. Democrats story: As I reported on May 21, Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan is behind a suit to knock this amendment off the ballot... if it makes it on the ballot in the first place. Today's Observer post notes that the Yes to Independent Maps campaign has raised $2.9 million, principally from Republicans, "such as Ken and Anne Griffin who have donated $350,000 to the effort and who are among GOP gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner’s biggest financial backers."

See? Straight-up partisan politics, right?

As Lee Corso says on college football Saturdays, not so fast, my friend.

It's easy to assume that the Republicans would be in favor of the amendment, since the Democrats that now control that mapping process have drawn such friendly districts for themselves, and such dangerous districts for their Republican friends, that the Republicans can practically qualify for endangered species status in Illinois. But nothing lasts forever, especially in politics. The Republicans will presumably have their day again. Eventually. And when they get it, they don't want to have to deal with fairly drawn districts; they will want a chance to draw three Democratic incumbents into the same new district and see how they like it. Republicans want to pick friendly voters and hamstring their opponents just as badly as Democrats do.

Today's alleged Republican plea to the ISBE comes suspiciously late in the process.

The ISBE is required by law to spot-check 5% of the signatures on mega-petitions like that filed by the redistricting amendment's supporters. In that check fully 54% of the signatures were deemed invalid. Projecting this failure rate across the entire petition would put the amendment well short of the 298,400 valid signatures necessary to qualify for the ballot.

Amendment supporters were given the Herculean task of trying to track down the 13,807 petition signers whose signatures were deemed invalid and secure affidavits from them showing that they did in fact sign the petition -- and they were initially given only until June 5 in which to accomplish this.

A Tribune editorial on June 5 noted that an ISBE hearing officer had agreed to give the Yes people a brief extension, to June 13, in which to marshal their rehabilitation evidence, but the full Board overruled the hearing officer. (The Tribune article also notes -- curiously -- that there was no consensus as to which signatures were invalid -- some Board staffers found only 17% of the signatures wanting, while others were willing to throw out an astonishing 86% of the signatures checked.)

Anyway, Radogno and Durkin's plea apparently comes after this reinstated deadline has passed -- before the Board's seemingly inevitable final ruling against the amendment comes down on June 17, but too late to do any real good. Fodder for a commercial or two, perhaps, but without incurring any serious risk that the voters might get a chance to vote on the amendment.

Photo obtained from this post on Capitol Fax
It's interesting to note that the constitutional amendment that Bruce Rauner openly supports, the term limits amendment, an amendment that would also cut the size of the Illinois Senate, has sailed through the ISBE without difficulty. (That's Mr. Rauner, above, posing with the term limits petitions just before they were sent for filing.)

Political professionals can deal with term limits -- Putin and Medvedev simply traded places, you'll recall. Granted, the last Cutback Amendment, perhaps the all-time blunder of Pat Quinn's career, was disruptive. Not only did it put one-third of the Illinois House out of office, it did more than any other single thing to create our current system in Springfield in which the majority leaders in both houses have such authority. The political class as a whole survived and prospered despite the disruption.

If some individual politicians would also suffer under Rauner's new cutback plan, the entire political class, in both parties, would be shaken to the core by a non-partisan map-drawing process. The Democrats are honest enough to be openly against it; many Republican politicians are merely pretending to be for it.

There may well be some constitutional infirmities in the Yes proposal; election attorney Michael J. Kasper will make a strong case, if he has to. This sentence in the proposed Amendment, for example, seems likely to cause trouble: "For ten years after service as a Commissioner or Special Commissioner [on the Independent Redistricting Commission], a person is ineligible to serve as a Senator, Representative, officer of the Executive Branch, Judge, or Associate Judge of the State or an officer or employee of the State whose appointment is subject to confirmation by the Senate."

But the professional politicians don't want to get to the merits of the map-drawing amendment either in a courtroom or on the hustings. They'd like to see it killed before it gets on the ballot. And, today's nominal Republican protest notwithstanding, the professional politicians may soon get their wish.