Illinois Democratic Representative Jack Franks is advancing a constitutional amendment that would change how the state draws its voter districts. It passed out of committee, and Franks hopes the measure will cut down on partisan redraws.
"We've been very good at gerrymandering maps and doing our incumbent protection policy for whichever party is in power at the time. It's not a Democrat or Republican thing. It is a bipartisan deal where everyone takes advantage of the citizens by protecting people like me," he says.
One of the more pronounced examples of this phenomenon is Illinois' 17th Congressional District, currently controlled by Congresswoman Cheri Bustos. From 2003 to 2013, its unusual shape gave it the nickname "rabbit on a skateboard."
Franks' proposed Redistricting Standards Act would create an independent 8-member commission which would be appointed by the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and the highest ranking justice of the opposite party. It also mandates the committee to reflect the "ethnic, racial, and gender demographics of Illinois." Finally, his proposal is noticeable for whom it excludes.
"Anyone who is, or was a recently elected official, along with lobbyists, or folks with contracts with the state, and state employees, will not be allowed to serve on the commission," he says.
Franks' proposal stands in contrast to one offered by Independent Maps, a nonpartisan coalition of business leaders and former state politicians. Like Franks, they want their proposal to go on November's ballot, but this isn't the first time they've attempted to redefine Illinois voting districts. The group floated a similar amendment in 2014, but it was ruled unconstitutional in Cook County Circuit Court. The ruling by Judge Mary Mikva found fault with a clause barring members of the commission from serving in public office for 10 years.
Franks objects to their plan.
"They have attorney-client privilege in theirs, which I don't have. Everything has to be open. I also mandate a minimum of 15 meetings. They don't have that. I also give the public much more input on the maps. The big difference that we have is that I don't have any involvement from the General Assembly or the governor, and in the Independent Maps movement, the legislative leaders participate in the legislation of commissioners," he said.
Unlike Independent Maps, Franks' amendment wouldn't prohibit commission members from serving in any public office for 10 years. Instead, the ban is limited to the General Assembly or a state office subject to Senate confirmation.
Franks hopes to bring his amendment to the House floor of the General Assembly when it reopens next week.