Word on the Street: If map-drawing effort succeeds, primaries could be next reform target - Open Primaries
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Posted by John Fernandes on April 26, 2016 at 11:07 AM

Word on the Street: If map-drawing effort succeeds, primaries could be next reform target


This article was written by Chris Kaergard for Journal Star.

Amid all the legislative action last week, a few new alternatives to the Fair Map political redistricting plan were introduced in Springfield.

It seems likely that at least something will end up before voters in November, which holds benefits. A study out from the Lugar Center at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy suggests that the more bipartisan — or less gerrymandered — a legislative district is, the more bipartisan the elected official is.

But with those proposals still up in the air — one more palatable to reform-minded groups than the other — it got us thinking about some conversations we had earlier in the year with folks about next-step ideas that could follow any redistricting proposal.

We got an earful on the notion Illinois voters would also be well served by changing how primary elections are conducted. The overarching notion was providing voters a chance to weigh in differently, with plenty of approving nods in the direction of California, which has moved to an open, nonpartisan primary.

Essentially voters in those primaries don’t have to choose a Republican ballot or a Democratic ballot, but get all the candidates desiring the office on one ballot. The top two choices advance to the general election.

“As you can imagine, the parties hate it,” John Opdycke, with the advocacy group Open Primaries, told me, explaining that such a system diluted the control of party leaders.

“(Traditional, closed primaries) really is the way that party leadership, party orthodoxy, party insiders maintain their leverage over officials,” he said. “In an open system, their leverage is much less.”

That, of course, assumes that a candidate running as an alternative manages to attract support not just from their own party but among independents and across the aisle.

By not having candidates choose a partisan ballot, it helps blur those partisan lines as well, encouraging a more independent brand of thinking. (In Illinois, of course, the other issue is closer to moot — voters can flip between parties each election, allowing independents to choose which ballot they’d like.)

Many people credit this change in California, instituted alongside redistricting reform, as being part of a more genial and civil atmosphere in the Legislature. Opdycke also suggests a greater willingness among lawmakers to buck party leaders, since they know they can appeal to independent voters.

Of course, change moves slowly on these proposals, and they haven’t caught on widely across the country. And the status quo in Illinois is already difficult enough to alter, as we’ve seen with the push all decade long to change the way political maps are drawn — and with the fact that a proposal to move to a top-two primary system here remains buried in the House Rules Committee, where bills go to die.

But if there’s finally progress on the map-drawing topic this year — and voters approve a proposal in November — be prepared for changes to the primary structure to be the next step for reformers.

Too soon

Meanwhile, legislators in Springfield managed to get over themselves long enough to compromise on a stopgap measure Friday that would fund higher education temporarily and cover low-income college students’ Monetary Award Program grants.

It was one of the first positive signs we’ve seen out of Springfield since the year began, though it was marred by the legislative reaction afterward.

Republican and Democrat alike, fingers were barely off the “yea” buttons voting for the proposal before the self-congratulatory news releases began to appear in our inbox.

Granted, the proposal was one crafted by rank-and-file lawmakers. That’s precisely the type of action we’ve been wanting to see since last June, with the other 173 lawmakers earning their pay by doing some heavy lifting and bypassing the spiteful barbs their chosen leaders are tossing at one another.

And, of course, the pols all want to make sure everyone knows they’re on the right side of the issue, after spending so long cringing in the shadows of their party bosses. You can’t stop a politician from self-promoting. It’s what they do.

But a little restraint might have been in order.

The accolades for bipartisan work and adulation for solving problems would be more deserved if there was more than one significant example of it, and if it weren’t just an interim solution.

Get together on real solutions to put this mess behind us, and then it’ll be time for lawmakers to take a curtain call.

A tree too far

On Friday, East Peoria officials will stand in front of City Hall and reveal what kind of tree will now be the official city tree, as selected by residents in a survey.

We’ve got nothing against the choices — tulip tree, service berry, Japanese tree lilac and dawn redwood — but does the city really need to formalize its ties to a species of tree?

Illinois has not quite 20 of such symbols — pumpkin pie as the official state pie being the most recent — most of which are easily forgettable.

If you want to plant a tree for Arbor Day, by all means, do it. But don’t cloak it in some kind of official ceremony to try to grant it needless meaning.

Chris Kaergard (C.K.) covers politics and Peoria County government for the Journal Star. He can be reached at 686-3255 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @ChrisKaergard. Nick Vlahos (N.V.) is on extended leave from the paper. He can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @VlahosNick.

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