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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Putback Amendment V Fair Map

Over the last month or so, I have featured several posts on the Putback amendment. The Putback amendment is a proposal by an Illinois activist named John Bambenek that tries to dramatically the structure and procedures of our government in order, in the hopes of Bambenek, to make the government more responsive.

The Putback amendment is comprehensive and so I did three separate posts on it. It includes a mechanism to allow the rank and file within the legislature to get their bills to the floor. With this amendment, any legislator would need to get 25 legislators to sign off on a discharge petition and that would get said bill onto the floor. Currently, it only goes through the rules committee and the rules committee is manned by the leadership. It also removes so called "shell bills" which are blank bills that filter through the legislature and allow the legislature to write the meat and bones in private and quickly have it voted on.

The amendment also has language that helps with ballot access. It limits challenges to those that are rooted in fraud and/or deception or ineligibility. It also allows for a more transparent and open process for redistricting. (That's only the beginning of course so please visit the links for a comprehensive analysis of the amendment)

Over the last month or so, another amendment has been introduced to the public to compete with the Putback amendment. It's called the Fair Map amendment. The first major difference is that this amendment only deals with the question of redistricting. Currently, the way the law is structured is this. First, a bill has to come out of both chambers and survive a gubernatorial veto. In each time, the Democrats controlled one and the Republicans the othe, so that's never happened. Next, the leadership each pick four people from each party. Then, five of those eight have to agree on a map. Of course, if there's 4 partisan Republicans and four partisan Democrats on said committee the chances are slim that any such agreement will be formed. In fact, it's never happened. The third step is to pick either Democrat or Republican out of a hat and have their map go.

The Illinois Fair Map amendment changes this process slightly. The leadership would still have to pick four people, but now they can't be legislators, staff, lobbyists, etc. Furthermore, the committe must choose a ninth person up front. The map must be drawn based on specific criterion, something the Putback amendment also requires, so that partisanship is eliminated.

According to Bambenek, the first problem here is that this amendment wouldn't pass constitutional muster. Any amendment to the State of Illinois' constitution must contain two different things: a structural change and a procedural change. In the Putback amendment, a structural change is that the bicameral legislature becomes unicameral. A procedural change is that now a legislator can bring their bill to the floor with 25 votes in a discharge petition.

The Illinois Fair Map amendment only has a procedural change. There is no structural change. So, according to Bambenek, this won't survive constitutional muster. Yet, the Fair Map amendment, only a month old, is the one receiving all the attention. The Chicago Sun Times has already given it their seal of approval.

Illinois voters, prep your John Hancocks. Citizen petitions began circulating Thursday to fix the perverse way Illinois draws its state legislative districts -- a way that stacks the deck in elections in favor of incumbents.

Don't be shy about signing on the dotted line.

The goal is 500,000 signatures by April, enough to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot asking voters if they want to strip from legislators the power to draw legislative districts and give that power to an independent, bipartisan commission. Nine other states already do it this way.

What has the Sun Times said about the Putback amendment. Nothing that's what. Ditto for the Tribune. In fact, there's been scant reporting of the Putback amendment in any of the Chicago media. Bambenek held a press conference in Chicago's posh Union League Club and the only member of the Chicago media to show was the local Fox affiliate and they didn't even use the footage in a broadcast.

That almost certainly has everything to do with who's backing each of the two amendments. The Fair Map amendment is backed by Tom Cross, Illinois House Republican leader, and it's being helped by the powerful and respected New York law firm, the Brennan Group. That gives the Fair Map amendment credibility the Putback amendment doesn't have. After all, John Bambenek, the leader of the Putback amendment, is a relative political unknown.

In fact, in the establishment, the issue of constitutionality is dismissed. After all, a respected law firm like the Brennan Group would never get something like that wrong. So, it appears that the Putback V Fair Map amendment will wind up much like everything else here in Illinois politically, the establishment versus the outsiders.


Billy Pilgrim said...

Not everyone takes Bambenek's word as gospel. The fair map contains both structural and procedural changes. Take a closer look. Reasonable people can differ, both amendments can be supported, they are not mutually opposed.

mike volpe said...

First, I don't take his word as gospel. I attribute what he said to him. Second, if there's something structural, please let me know what it is. To tell me to look closely without identifying the structural change is nonsense.

Third, you aren't going to be able to support both since they each deal differently with the issue of redistricting.

Fourth, the Putback amendment is much more comprehensive. So, even if it passes muster, it doesn't deal with all sorts of structural problems.

John Bambenek said...

Don't take my word for gospel. Read the case law yourself or take it to a good state constitutional lawyer (there really are a dozen tops in this state).

Structural is clearly defined by the courts as relating to the structure of the general assembly itself. Not the "structure" of lines on a map, which is a "requirement".