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Editorial: Obama should push for fair Illinois maps

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Editorial: Obama should push for fair Illinois maps

By Herald & Review

When President Barack Obama addresses the General Assembly on Wednesday, he should expand his commitment to fair elections and fair political maps.

“We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters, and not the other way around,” Obama told Congress and the nation during his State of the Union message last month.

The president was referring specifically to Congress. Republicans control many of the state legislatures across the nation and thus get to draw the political maps. The result is an alarming lack of election competition. Of the 435 U.S. House districts up for election in November, only 21 are considered tossups. Another 37 are in what could best be described as in the leaning but undecided category, according to the Cook Political Report. That means 377 seats, roughly nine out of 10, are uncontested.

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Want to know why people are disengaged? It’s because the politicians have, in effect, removed folks from the political process.

The situation is every bit as bad in Illinois, although the Democrats control the General Assembly so the maps are drawn to their liking. This year, all 118 seats in the Illinois House and 40 seats in the Senate are up for election. In the March primary there are only 30 contested primaries.

In most districts, the primary is the only race. In 2014, 49 percent of the lawmakers elected to the House and 63 percent of those elected to the Senate had no opponent in the primary or the general election. It’s not because our General Assembly is doing such a bang up job. Voters can’t “throw the bums out,” because there is no choice.

There needs to be an end to such gerrymandering, whether the maps favor Republicans or Democrats. Obama would do well to throw his support behind the effort to change the state’s constitution and make the map-drawing process more independent.

The president is a registered voter in Illinois, so he could sign one of the petitions being circulated by Independent Maps, the group pushing for the amendment.

At the very least, the president should repeat his plea and make it clear that politically drawn maps are evil, no matter which party benefits. The president may want to make sure he addresses those remarks directly to House Speaker Michael Madigan, who has worked the hardest of any politician to keep the status quo.

The president is certainly aware of the state’s political gridlock over budgets, pension reforms and a host of other issues. There are many causes, but one of the main ones is that legislators in safe districts don’t have to answer to their constituents. Obama should make clear that as a resident of the state, as the president and as a leader of the Democratic Party, Illinois should work harder to draw fair political maps.

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(c)2016 the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.)

Visit the Herald & Review (Decatur, Ill.) at www.herald-review.com

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