April 5, 2015
End gerrymandering in Illinois for once and all
In last November's election, 69 of the 118 races for representative in the Illinois House had just one candidate on the ballot.
That means voters had zero choice 58 percent of the time.
Or how about this number, which also comes from a soon-to-be released study by CHANGE Illinois: In 49 percent of the races, the winner got a free pass both in the primary and the general election.
That's a statistic that would make a dictatorial regime proud of its show election.
Where's the competition? Why, when voters do their civic duty and trudge to the polling places, do they see only one name?
A huge part of the problem is gerrymandering, in which politicians use powerful technological tools to draw district boundaries in such a way that the voting outcome is virtually guaranteed. Even as the U.S. Supreme Court struggles with this issue on the national level, we need a new effort in Illinois to reform how we remap districts, from aldermanic wards to congressional districts, every 10 years.
Political parties love gerrymandering. Their computers process so much personal data about us that politicians practically know how we'll vote before we do. In the Feb. 24 municipal election, the 2nd Ward was so artfully remapped into far-flung pockets of addresses connected by the merest threads of right-of-way that many of the residents had no idea where the ward boundaries lay. That posed a big challenge for candidates trying to connect to voters with a coherent message.
The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments March 3 on a challenge to Arizona, which in 2000 gave redistricting power to a five-member independent commission. If the court rules against Arizona, it will be hard to stop gerrymandering in federal races. That would be a huge setback for those trying to give voters more power by handing the redistricting process to independent commissions.
Twice in recent years in Illinois, independent groups have tried to get a referendum on the ballot that would set up a commission to draw boundaries for state legislative districts. Both times, organizers fell short in gathering enough signatures on petitions, but we urge them to go for it again in 2016.
In a democracy, there should never be so many uncontested races. That's a sure sign the fix is in. And your vote counts for nothing.
April 3, 2015
Open meetings from the start
Illinois has had an open meetings law for decades, but the concept still eludes some public officials. After all these years, you have to think that the failure to abide by it is deliberate.
A recent example involves St. Clair Township, but similar things happen involving any number of local governments in the metro-east.
The Illinois Attorney General's office was flooded with complaints after St. Clair Township locked its doors prior to its February meeting when the meeting room reached its capacity of 76. The meeting was about a controversial sewer rate increase, and township officials knew there would be an overflow crowd. They had the sign-in sheet numbered so they would know when they reached capacity.
The simple solution would have been to hold the meeting in a larger area nearby so everyone could have attended. Instead, many township residents who wanted to have a say about sewer rates, or just wanted to hear some answers, were literally locked out.
Now that the attorney general's office is investigating, the township said it is cooperating. That's cold comfort to residents who were shut out.
The cooperation needs to happen in advance of a meeting; it shouldn't take complaints to get elected leaders to ensure public participation. This is not just a matter of following state law; it's about doing the right thing and accommodating the needs of the people they were elected to serve.
April 2, 2015
Rockford Register Star
One day in April not enough to honor Cheap Trick
We try to forget most things Rod Blagojevich did while he was governor of Illinois. However, there's one piece of legislation he signed that those of us who live in Rockford especially appreciate.
Illinois has celebrated Cheap Trick Day every April 1 since 2008. "America's greatest pop rock garage band," as guitarist and Rockford resident Rick Nielsen has described it, has sold more than 20 million albums and has worked with some of the biggest producers in the music industry. Music critics have credited the band with perfecting the power pop that influenced grunge and other contemporary rock.
Despite recognition from Rolling Stone magazine, petition drives and a Facebook page (Induct Cheap Trick into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame), we won't be doing any additional celebrating this month on behalf of Cheap Trick.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame continues to snub the Rockford band. The Hall has been inducting artists for 30 years and has yet to recognize the local quartet.
The 2015 class to be inducted April 18: the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Green Day, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Lou Reed, Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and Bill Withers, all in the performer category; the "5'' Royales for the early-influences award; and former Beatles drummer Ringo Starr.
We're not sure what artists, historians and members of the music industry who vote on Hall status are looking for. Cheap Trick has been successful for four decades, it's had big hits and it has influenced other artists.
One of these Aprils, we hope Cheap Trick gets more than its day.
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