Thursday, September 22, 2016

On Redistricting, Rauner, and Baseball...

On Redistricting, Rauner, and Baseball…

What or who’s the most important factor in a baseball team’s ultimate success?  The Coach?  The Star Players?  The Hitters?  The Pitching Staff?

You might be surprised and a bit underwhelmed to find the stadium’s designer as one of the arguably preeminent elements of a winning squad. 

You build a baseball park and your first questions of design are whether it should be a hitters’ park or a pitcher’s park.  Changes the whole dynamic of drafts and scouting and expenditures and minor league emphases. 

Globe Life Park in Arlington, Texas, where the Rangers play is a hitter’s park: batters produce 9.1% more runs than the overall average of other baseball parks.  Contrariwise, in San Francisco, California, the Giants play in a park designed for pitchers, and therefore a 420 foot power alley and extra foul ball territory, which provides a thrower 5.8% fewer runs than an average ball park.

Designing a political powerhouse?  The same influences apply for voting districts in a state.  In fact, when it comes to maintaining a base of power and control, he who holds the power to design (sometimes called Gerrymandering) the political borders in the state holds the political future – or so it is often thought.  More about that later.

In an attempt to lessen the strength of the Federalists in 1812, the Massachusetts’s legislature received the go-ahead from then Governor Elbridge Gerry to split the voting precinct in Essex County.  The newly formed district was designed to support the former-President Thomas Jefferson’s political proclivities and it meandered, swerved, and spiraled over the map so much so that it became – as one local newspaper suggested – similar to the rubbery amphibian found under dead wood in the wet spring.  Instead, however, of calling it a salamander, the local press dubbed it a “Gerrymander” after the governor.

According to Consultant David Winston, who drew White House Districts for the GOP after the 1990 U.S. Census, “As a mapmaker, I can have more impact on an election than a campaign…more of an impact than a candidate. When I, as a mapmaker, have more of an impact on an election than the voters, the system is out of whack.”  Winston’s comments can be heard echoing behind the USC Annenberg Center’s website entitled The Redistricting Game.  In the Game’s table of contents, you’ll find an opportunity to try to build new districts on a fundamental level of learning, a partisan gerrymander, a bipartisan gerrymander, an inclusion of Voting Rights Act limitations, and a final “reformed” method.  I suggest you try it at www.redistricting  You’ll learn quite a bit. 

Recently this summer, the Illinois Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the Independent Maps Committee to allow a citizen petition for an amendment on redistricting to appear on the Novemeber 6th ballot in Illinois.

Later, another rejection by the Illinois Supreme Court to rehear the case earned not only the anger of Governor Bruce Rauner but also the assurance he will add that ultimatum to his growing list of other demands in his Turnaround Agenda.

The Independent Map petition was deemed unconstitutional in its design, straying outside of the constitutionally prescribed “structural and procedural” limitations of Article XIV, section 3.  In the 4-3 partisan finding of the Court, Justice Kilbride questioned an outline of added duties to the office of the Illinois Auditor General (previously Representative Frank Mautino), noted language within the petition which drifts into revenue seeking or enhancements, and criticized a narrowly prescriptive methodology for a plan to redistrict. 

Rauner was quick to react and seize upon his old saw of “corruption” and a “rigged system.” 

“’What drives people away from Illinois is the sense that our political system is broken and our government is unaccountable to the people,’ Rauner said in a statement denouncing the ruling.”
In fact, Illinois is one of another 36 states where the legislature is responsible for drawing the voting districts in the state.  In these legislatures, adoptions of such districts are accomplished by simple majority votes.  This is especially frustrating for a governor like Rauner, who has vowed to “change Springfield” and “set term limits” and “drive them all nuts.” 
The last promise has been evidenced in his refusal to settle on a state budget for over a year; and with new demands for pension ‘reform,’ term limits, and now an amendment on redistricting being included – well, the budget may be suspended until the next redistricting plan is presented to the office of the governor for signing in 2021.   
By the way, the Governor in Illinois does have the power to veto any planned map.  And, the state also allows for the establishment of a backup commission comprised of members appointed by the leaders in the General Assembly if there is inability to agree upon a plan.
 With a solid Democratic majority in place, that would never suffice.  Rauner also scolded the Court: “Today’s court decision to deny Illinoisans the right to vote on a redistricting referendum does nothing to stem the outflow or change people’s views of how the system is rigged and corrupt.”
The Tribune likewise published blistering opinions in its editorial pages regarding the partisan divide evidenced in the Court’s decision.  “Once again machine politics won. Voters lost.  Independent Maps, a group of civic leaders and volunteers…” 
This is not to say that the Independent Maps Organization does not have some back history itself in politics, the Chicago Tribune, or connections to Illinois as a better business model.  In fact, the leader and spokesperson of the Independent Maps movement is a former Tribune CEO, Dennis FitzSimons.  According to an article published by Dennis Rodkin, FitzSimons had “spent 25 years at Tribune Co. before stepping down after helping to engineer its sale to Sam Zell and an Employee Stock Ownership Plan.” As you know, Zell masterminded the bankruptcy of the newspaper and forced the building’s recent sale.  At least it wasn’t Donald Trump. (
And what was in the plan that Rauner argues would make Illinois free of the political corruption and rigging under which we have all suffered?  It will be accomplished by the Independent Redistricting Commission, comprised of 11 Commissioners. 
It sounds so, well, non-partisan doesn’t it? But if you thought the rubrics of the Hunger Games seemed a bit obtuse, the Independent Maps Plan appears as impervious to manipulation as a wealthy parent’s desire to get his child into a great school like Walter Payton High through some clever intrigue and an under-the-table donation. 
Here it is in synopsis and small font.
The Auditor General will begin a search for applicants for potential Reviewers who meet criteria for operating in an ethical and non-partisan manner and have met a four-year history of non-partisan voting while adhering to standards of ethical conduct. Hundreds will apply.
The Auditor General will select 30 from the many applications he will receive.
By the end of March of the Federal decennial census, the Auditor General shall publicly select by random draw three permanent Reviewers.  They will now become The Panel of Reviewers.
In addition, the Auditor General will entertain applications from those who would serve in the capacity of Commissioner in the Independent Redistricting process.  After assuring that each applicant is sufficient in analytical abilities, preferably non-partisan, a resident of specified time in Illinois, a registered voter, a suitable representative of the geographic or ethnic diversity, etc., the Panel of Reviewers shall select 100 potential Commissioners.  They will now become The Pool of Possible Commissioners.
The Speaker, the Senate President, the two Minority Leaders of the General Assembly may each remove up to five from The Pool of Possible Commissioners. After this, the Panel of Reviewers publicly select in a random draw the seven Permanent Commissioners.
 The seven Permanent Commissioners will reside in the judicial districts – two affiliated with one party, two affiliated with the other party, and three unaffiliated to either party. 
The Speaker, the Senate President, and the two Minority Leaders of the General Assembly shall now each appoint one additional Commissioner from the Pool on the basis of potential contributions to demographic and geographic diversity. 
The now eleven Permanent Commissioners shall meet publicly and begin an election of officers, identify a quorum of 6, provide an allowance for voting only when all political affiliations are equally balanced, develop a redistricting plan, present said plan to the public explaining its compliance with the Constitutional legal requirements, and vote on the plan.
When the Permanent Commission fails to agree or file a redistricting plan by June 30th of the year following the Federal decennial census, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and the most senior Justice of the opposite party will jointly appoint a Special Commissioner of Redistricting, who shall hold at least one public hearing and file the finished plan with the Secretary of State.  The office of the Secretary of State will presume the plan valid and publish it.
That all clear, Katniss?  Welcome to Panem.
Oh, by the way, that 1812 “Gerrymandering” attempt by the Massachusetts’s Governor was a total failure.  The Federalists won despite the creative outlining of districts to prevent a victory.  One political scientist, Mark Rush, argues in his book Does Redistricting Make a Difference? we should all regard the popular rush to redistricting by commission or panel rather skeptically because the long-term demonstrates little change and smaller effect and an almost impossible ability to control the ever-changing outlines of populations and ethnicities or sudden burst of hot issues.  Moreover, he warns, those who argue such validity are often promoting the highly paid political consultants who thrive on such shifts in our original democratic method.  Koch Brothers anyone? (ISBN 9780739101926)
Feel conflicted?  I do.
After all, Madigan rose to power in 1980 when a redistricting panel of eight Republicans and Democrats decided upon a random draw to break the impasse.  Madigan was given the green light to draw up the political boundaries after the name was ironically selected from President Abraham Lincoln’s top hat. 
What we see today is the later generations of tweaking and alterations – some required by the Voting Rights Act, challenges, court reviews, etc. – of a skilled politician who has held his party’s confidence and probably forced fealty for another 36 years.  Even as early as 1981, the Tribune begrudgingly characterized him as a “political wizard.”
Other states provide for much simpler and transparent designs for Redistricting Commissions.  So many evolutions by former Tribune CEO Chairman FitzSimons’ product invites worry about influences in that dark world under the table or in back hallways.  Six states offer simple commissions of major players in the government – governor, auditor, leaders of the legislative branches.  Some are strictly small groups of non-partisan, less than ten.  Judicial leaders in some states select various affliations to begin with. Very few follow as complicated a scheme as the one proposed by FitzSimons and then dashed by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Speaking of the Cubs…sorry, I think that was some time ago.  Of course you’ve noticed how the asymmetrical outfield distracts and befuddles opposing players.  Add some crannies, a lot of vines, and a possible ghostly goat and the game takes on some real wrinkles.
Governor Rauner abhors wrinkles…or rules or the past…or anything that does not give him what he wants NOW.  Remind you of anyone?  
Just for a moment, imagine all baseball fields exactly alike, equal distances and parameters, and same winds and uniform lighting (please don’t think of Cellular Field, for your own sake).   And if you’ll indulge me my baseball metaphor, imagine term limits.  That great pitcher you have right now…well, he can only pitch for two innings and he must leave the game. 
“Sorry, Jake, you’ve got to go now according to the added rules of the new Turnaround Baseball Commissioner/player.  Oh, yeah, and he gets four strikes instead of three when he comes up to the plate against you. “
“But I’m not even warmed up…”
Because, believe me, Rauner is the rookie batter in this Illinois political league and he wants to even the fields and shorten the lives of those he faces.  Why?  Every facet of his Turnaround Agenda is designed to give him the opportunity to weaken a foe and provide him an extra chance to make him the winner.  And he’ll spend $20 million ($16M already) to do just that.
And he’ll strangle the state if you don’t let him.
Go, Cubbies!

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Poor Little Lambs

Jack Dillon, far right.
“We’re Poor Little Lambs Who …”

I truly believe that 30 years from now, I will be getting Republican National Committee mailers for my deceased father.  That is, if they are still around.  I know that I won’t be.  I’ll be 100 or so.  But the mail is for my dad, not me.  And he’d be around 120.  The RNC: We Don’t Give Up.

I miss my father.  He passed away a few years ago, but he was increasingly absent for at least the prior decade as the insidiousness of dementia and Alzheimer’s, which robbed him of himself - and me of him – dimmed the light in his eyes. 

My Dad had received at least three Gold Medals of Freedom from Ronald Reagan, the 40th President, for his support and unfailing monetary donations to the RNC.  On the walls of his small office, where he patiently awaited the urgent call from his company to come back to work via a private plane to New York, flattering images of Reagan hung upon the walls with signatures and brief words of thanks – before the lights went out in Ronald’s eyes as well. 

When Dad became clearly ill, I was forced to take over his life and care for him until his unfair end.  His car, his accounts, his identity, and his phone number.  This meant as well that I inherited the accumulation of his life’s later and embittered political confusions (he was by the way originally an FDR acolyte and school-age W.E.B. Du Bois supporter).     

So they call me still: The RNC. The Tea Party.  The Birther Movement. Speaker Paul Ryan. The Party of No.

At first, I was so haunted by my father’s passing; I’d ignore the calls.  But they’d leave messages asking and sometimes almost demanding money for their fight to stop Obama, to prevent woman’s rights, to shut down this or that, to stop any attempts preventing my ownership of an assault weapon.

But they kept calling and wanting more from him.  And I slowly began picking up the phone.  And I’d say that “Yes” I was that same Medal guy. And I’d let them throw the pitch for money to get rid of Obama or illegal voters or abortion rights or the assault on gun ownership. 

And then, I’d play along.

For the NRA/Tea Party groups that called, I’d concur with their rabid hatred of Obama and the assault on assault guns (sorry about that).  And I’d make up stuff about all the armament I have around the house.  My Glocks, my Bushmasters, my Sigs…then, I’d ask about access to better and bigger stuff.  After all, the government is our enemy, isn't it?   The voice on the other end would grow cautious but clearly supportive.  “Yes, I know how you feel.  I think we should have more military weaponry too.  But we have to work to vote those people into our Congress that understand that.  Would you be willing to provide us with a donation – as you have in the past -  of…”

For the RNC, I’d play an older father who just found out his son was gay  I would speak in a voice imperious with tears that my poor son was the result of what?  I was no longer sure.  Was it nature or nurture?  I loved him but now he had become “one of them.”  The voice on the other end would become understanding, but always suggested I find some way to get him into counseling to get him back to the path of normalcy.  And then the measured “I am so sorry,” followed by the “Would you be willing to provide us with a donation – as you have in the past -  of…”

I don’t respond anymore, but this election cycle has certainly re-energized all phone folderol.  They’re calling now again and again and leaving messages or phone numbers to call.   Tea Party has rung the house at least three times this week.

And today I received the MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN SURVEY from, well, you know.  Clearly addressed to my Dad.   I’m supposed to return my completed survey with a donation of $35 through $5000 by the 30th.  There’s a space for more than $5000, and I am sadly happy Dad has left us.

Nine ridiculously slanted questions appear on the survey, with a picture of a 35 year-old Trump and an unusually peculiar image of Hillary Clinton, with her eyes in a worried arch to the side as if someone may have heard a sound like flatulence.

Question 1: “Hillary Clinton is working hard to win the White House so she can carry forward Barack Obama’s disastrous policies –including increased taxes – which have been so harmful to our nation’s economy.  Donald Trump is dedicated to lowering taxes and institution responsible reforms that will create jobs, strengthen free enterprise and boost economic growth.  Which candidate do you trust more to put America on a secure and prosperous economic path?” 

Whoa…that’s a tough one.

Thank goodness, the others get easier.

Do you want more ISIS?  Do you want the US Supreme Court filled with radicals? Do you want a possible Wall or the same infiltration by illegals for many more years?  Do you want the EPA to continue destroying business models across America?  Do you support Obamacare as it eviscerates our country?

Trump says you can find the entire survey here.

But you won’t.  Instead, you’ll find a request for more money.  You can call 888-496-6264 to see the survey, but I’m sure they’ll want money before you can. 

Meanwhile, just yesterday, Republican nominee Trump warned that if Iranian boats were to drive by and make rude (profane) gestures at our navy vessels, he would order our boats to shoot them to pieces.  By the way, this is his common refrain – “bomb the hell out of them, blow them up, destroy them, etc.”

In the last years of life, I tremble to believe that Dad would have said something like, “Hell, yes.”  But he probably would have.

And I tremble to think of how many might say the same thing as we head inexorably toward November.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Term Limits and Bruce Rauner

Just One Rauner Demand: Term Limits

 Although term limits were applied to those who served for the original Articles of Confederation, it was a reluctant and physically drained President George Washington who set the precedent for a limitation of the seat of office of the Presidency, until some 150 years later when passage of Article XXII of the US Constitution (by 36 of 48 states) forced an end point (two terms only) for those who would be President of the United States.

Current Republican Governor Rauner has vigorously promoted the need for an historical reversion to this principal for our state General Assembly.
"We desperately need new faces and new ideas in Illinois politics. We need to make serving in government more about public service, and less about power and a government pension. That should be obvious," (Rauner) said.

In Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, the heated debate of our Founders against any possible return to a class-based rule or possibly perpetual aristocratic omnipotence in a newly born government is understandable.  After all, the American Revolution had been fought and barely won, refuting such political constructions.  No one wanted anyone to hold an office perpetually. Not anymore. 

Washington would not have said it much differently.  He considered his position as President as a kind of “Civilian Leader,” not a King.  And he too feared the permanent entrenchment of power for the few and the wealthy. 

Rauner has included term limits in his Turnaround Agenda demands, requiring members of the General Assembly to adhere to a tenure of no more than 10 years, senate or representative.

“The structure of our government has contributed to years of mismanagement of the state’s finances.“  By ‘structure,’ Rauner attributes our current unfunded liability of over $100 billion in pension debt NOT to the steady and recurrent diversion of money owed annually by the state to pet political projects, but instead to a “cycle of corruption” which allowed previous governors to negotiate “sweetheart deals with those who make money from the government.”

By the way, his simple causal reasoning has been refuted by Ralph Martire of the CTBA, the Pew Research Organization, COGFA, TRS, as well as the chief legal counsel for the Senate of the General Assembly, Eric Madiar.   

Washington stepped aside, not down, after two terms of office.  He was, according to reports in Chernow, a man who had lost his vigor, and was incapable of anything more than hollow and weakened speech.  A decision based upon health as much as political consideration. 

Today, in fifteen state legislatures, party members are subject to term limits.  In 35 others there are no term limits, although those states have been subjected to ongoing attempts to achieve them.  Voters have nullified some while courts finding objection with their methodology have legally prevented others.  The fifteen states enforcing state term limits for legislators include the following:

Arizona:  H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 4 terms, 8 years
Arkansas: 16 years both houses, cumulative
California: 12 years cumulative, both houses
Colorado: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Florida: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Louisiana: H – 3 terms, 12 years; S – 12 terms, 8 years
Maine: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 4 terms, 8 years
Michigan: H – 4 terms, 6 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Missouri: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Montana: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Nebraska (Unicameral): S – 2 terms, 8 years
Nevada: A – 6 terms, 12 years; S – 3 terms, 12 years
Ohio: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years
Oklahoma: 12 year cumulative either or both
South Dakota: H – 4 terms, 8 years; S – 2 terms, 8 years

And has it helped those states?   Have they become more attentive to the needs of their citizens?

According to US News & World Report, “evidence from states that have already adopted such measures actually suggests the opposite. States that have restricted their legislators’ time in office have seen no clear benefits but rather some unexpected negative results.”

“Voters were persuaded that term limits were desirable by several different arguments. One of the more compelling was that such limits would create a new breed of citizen legislators more reflective of the public’s will. In turn, this would weaken the grip that special interest lobbyists had on lawmaking. 
In fact, the backgrounds of state legislators elected after term limits were imposed closely resemble the backgrounds of those elected before such restrictions. They typically have previous political experience and are more educated and affluent than the voters who selected them. And while term limits have changed the way lobbyists do their business, they have actually increased their influence. The legislators elected after term limits were imposed often lack knowledge of the details of many complex policies and turn to lobbyists for information. These special interest groups actually report that they now work harder “educating” less knowledgeable legislators.”

They – Hamilton, Washington, Madison, and Jefferson - all feared the possible reversion to a more familiar and British aristocratic form of rule as well as an anarchic, bloody revolution witnessed in France in their recent history.  It was an unfathomable balancing act for which they not only held the tightropes but also yanked on personal and political disagreements.  They never forgave each other in the often-political internecine combat to keep our country on a path to avoid those European extremes.

Our own battles remind us of their obdurate positions.  One feckless Governor wants this; the others refuse to give in.  Now, a year beyond a real budget, our state faces an additional $14 billion of debt to purveyors.  Drive by a Walgreens on any corner – then realize you and I owe them $1 billion (with interest).   

So, who does win with term limits?  Governors, of course.

“Still, almost everyone involved in the legislative process sees governors as big winners under term limits. In addition to their constitutional authority to sign and veto bills, governors in term- limited states control many top-level state jobs that legislators facing short stints will soon want. Whether it is a question of job ambitions, a shortage of information or sheer inexperience, the reality seems to be that legislators do a far less effective job of competing with governors for power once term limits take effect.
According to the Public Policy Institute of California, that state's term-limited legislators make just half as many changes to the governor's budget as they did in the old days, representing many billions of dollars in legislative discretion that is no longer exercised. The NCSL/CSG study found similar budgetary effects in other term-limited states, including Colorado and Maine. "The crumbling of legislative power is clear across states," says Thad Kousser, a political scientist at the University of California, San Diego, and author of a book on term limits. "There's no more clear finding in the research than a shift in power where the legislature is becoming a less than equal branch of government."

On the other hand. the political landscape has undergone some mutations since the first battles of our Founding Fathers to maintain the original concept of a balanced Republic. 

In the long time elapsed since the original Founding Fathers’ concerns and arguments (even duels), much has changed.  The two party system they feared has become entrenched, the destructive possibilities of a for-profit system of speculation at the expense of democracy has occurred, the power of monetary influence in the political environment has metastasized, and the loss of a thinking populace and an impotent free press has become increasingly destructive.

Term limits?  Think of them as a constant and continual flushing of the system – good and bad.  A guaranteed loss of sense of history, responsibility and knowledge.  The favorite legislator of any one district is destined to discard his/her advocacy in short order.   Also, consider the increased veto power of a governor who faces a an influx of novices or a constantly changing legislature.  Think about the ability of a wealthy plutocrat who has installed himself in office to force new and inexperienced challengers in a few years to attempt running against his well-financed competitors.

Starting to get the picture?

Madigan is not my friend, nor is he the friend of anyone who has a pension or holds to the basics of contract law.  But he is not the single issue, as Rauner would have.   He is not the “Voldemort” of the General Assembly.   Like many in the General Assembly, Madigan is a politician who has delivered for his constituents, has ignored the future fiscal responsibilities which we will all pay, and has displayed an uncanny and frightening sense of how to magnify his office as Speaker.  

But to place it all on him?  C'mon, Governor.  Many more, including your own party, have avoided the payments leading to our debt.  

“It’s time we break the cycle of corruption…” says Rauner. 

Like I should trust you?