Missing: Governor who pledged veto of partisan redistricting

“Yes, I will pledge to veto,” JB Pritzker said as a candidate in 2018 when asked if he would veto “any state legislative redistricting map proposal that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies.”

He couldn’t have been more clear. “Yes, I will pledge to veto.”

Just in case anyone thought it needed clarification anyway, candidate Pritzker followed up in his answer to a questionnaire in the Northwest Herald: “I support ending the gerrymandering of districts to encourage more competitive elections.”

Candidate Pritzker became Governor Pritzker. Things changed as they do with time, but at least one thing stayed the same. Following his 2020 State of the State Address, Governor Pritzker re-stated his commitment to fair, nonpartisan district maps when he said he would “veto any unfair map that gets presented to me.”

Clear words.

Clear meaning.

“I will pledge to veto.” 

“Ending the gerrymandering.”

“Veto any unfair map.”

It seemed like the beginning of a new era in Illinois politics. Maybe we were finally seeing the end of decades of corruption aided and abetted by unfairly drawn district maps which locked one party or one politician into unassailable positions of power.

We’ve heard empty promises of reform many times before in Illinois. But this time seemed different. The promise was so clear and was repeated so many times. Maybe this would finally be the year.

And then hopes were dashed. Suddenly everything changed. 

Or perhaps it is more appropriate to say nothing changed.

In 2021 the same old process started up again. Majority Democrats in the legislature started drawing their own partisan map to their own partisan advantage. They even determined to charge ahead without the necessary Census data, which will not be out until August, so that they wouldn’t run the risk of having to share power.

Meanwhile, Governor Pritzker was silent. No more clear words like “I will pledge to veto,” or “ending the gerrymandering.”

Just silence.

It wasn’t that there weren’t any opportunities to speak out. Dozens of hearings were held around the state, ostensibly to solicit input on what the maps should look like. But the most powerful voice in the process - the governor who would be called upon to sign or veto the map - was silent.

Republicans spoke up, calling for a fair map. Calling for the kind of fair, nonpartisan practice that Democrats had previously said they supported.

Then the silence was broken as the Governor spoke out this week. But gone were the clear promises like “I will pledge to veto” and “ending the gerrymandering.”

Instead he claimed to support the Constitutional amendment (which Democrats have consistently blocked) to create a non-partisan redistricting commission. Then he seemed to claim that without that commission he was essentially powerless to do anything about unfair partisan maps. 

So much for that pledged veto.

For good measure he then seemed to assert that the current map is perfectly fine. Not gerrymandered at all.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin suggested that the Governor had “retrograde amnesia on this important topic.” Others had more to say.

While the Governor’s statements on the issue are now anything but clear, two things are perfectly clear:

The party in power is seeking to once again use a gerrymandered district map to maintain and tighten its hold on power. 

And the Governor who came into office pledging to stop that kind of conduct is missing.