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Larry Lough

Politics: Where the right thing goes to die

Doing the right thing involves a simple concept:

Examine the options, then choose the one that serves the greater good.

But some ideas ought to receive widespread support without consideration of alternatives.

For example, legislative districts should be logically drawn to protect communities of interest and encourage competitive political campaigns.

And another: We should encourage as many voters as possible to participate in elections to make results as representative as possible of the population.

But politics isn’t about the greater good.

AT THIS SAME TIME just 4 years go, this newspaper was “all in” with the Fair Map Amendment.

We editorialized on behalf of a nonpartisan redistricting process for Illinois. We encouraged people to sign petitions to get the initiative before the voters. We even made petitions available to sign at our offices in Dixon and Sterling.

Alas, not enough signatures were gathered statewide to put the measure on the November 2010 ballot.

Now a new campaign, Yes! for Independent Maps, reported this week it has enough signatures to put a referendum in the Nov. 4 election.

Everyone should agree that congressional and legislative maps should ensure fair elections and informed representation.

But the partisan process of reapportionment in Illinois is intended solely to give an electoral advantage to the political party that draws the maps.

Life’s not fair. Same with politics.

IMAGINE A GROUP of people – nonpartisan, not the political party in power – being responsible for drawing political maps that reflect the state’s geographic, demographic and political diversity.

Those districts would be as compact as possible, keeping together people with similar local or regional interests, regardless of how they voted in past elections.

Remapping would be an academic exercise, not a political game.

In a perfect world?

Try Iowa, or Ohio, or a number of other states that have removed politicians from redistricting.

It can be done.

ILLINOIS DEMOCRATIC leaders can be expected to challenge the petitions that will be submitted by Yes! for Independent Maps.

They have a super-majority in the General Assembly, a stranglehold on the state’s congressional caucus (two-thirds of 18 seats), and their own maps in force to perpetuate their power.

You would ask them to give that up ... why? To do the right thing?

But it’s not just a Democratic issue.

In Indiana, Republicans have a similar hold on state government: super majorities in both chambers of the Legislature, seven of the nine congressional seats, and their own partisan districting plan in place.

Look at the bigger picture: Why should Illinois Democrats want a nonpartisan redistricting process, which would give Republicans a chance to pick up four or five congressional seats, when Indiana Republicans – and other traditionally Republican states – have no intention of adopting fairly drawn maps that would give Democrats a shot at more seats in the U.S. House?

Illinois Democrats have a point: They’d be happy to turn over redistricting to the academics – but let Indiana do it first.

If those folks from Yes! for Fair Maps have 298,000 valid signatures (they say they have collected 350,000), Democratic political leaders won’t decide the matter.

Illinois voters will.

ANOTHER INITIATIVE that could find its way onto the Illinois ballot in November seeks to protect voters from being hassled at the polls.

Democrats have proposed to amend the state constitution to bar the Legislature from establishing new requirements for citizens to exercise their right to vote.

Several states – Indiana among them – have enacted voter identification laws, cut back early voting, etc., to discourage voting.

Such laws are part of a nationwide Republican campaign to suppress the vote since low turnouts usually favor Republican candidates. Many typically Democratic voters – seniors, youths, minorities – are less likely to vote if they have to jump through extra hoops.

The GOP argues it’s merely trying to prevent voter fraud, but nobody really believes that because such fraud is practically non-existent.

Illinois Democrats hope to exercise a little pre-emptive self-defense in anticipation of Republicans’ gaining control the General Assembly again someday.

With their super-majorities, Democrats can vote to put the question on the ballot without Republican support.

If they’re smart, Republican legislators will join the effort.

SO, YES, YOU CAN do the right thing.

You can establish a sensible redistricting process.

And you can make it easier for people to vote.

But such things run counter to the self-preservation instincts of politicians who want to perpetuate their power.

The greater good?

Good luck.