A Necessary Compromise

***Guest Column***

Can we just forget about politics for one second and revel in the fact that the Cubs are in the National League Championship Series. If the Cubs make it to the World Series it will be the first time since Mike Madigan became Speaker of the House. Ok, that’s the last time I’ll use that joke for a while. But the point is that it has been a long time coming! Here’s to singing “Go Cubs Go” and flying the “W.”

Shifting gears now to what to write about this week – politics. Many of you have seen me out and about in the community. I keep my schedule jam-packed with as many public events, activities and dinners as my calendar can manage. I was at one such event Thursday night with the wonderful ladies at the Freeport Chapter of the American Business Women’s Association.

We had a great time – and some great pot roast. We talked about local issues and also many of the issues currently being discussed in Illinois. Some of the highlights were “Automatic Voter Registration,” term limits, and redistricting reform. As we were talking about redistricting reform, I had a thought occur to me that I felt I should share with all of you this week.

Most people think of redistricting reform as being about making sure that one political party or another can’t “stack the deck in their favor.” That is to say, redistricting reform is thought to be about one party keeping power away from the other by virtue of how the party in power draws legislative maps. I understand why most people believe this to be the crux of the issue, but I would respectfully offer another point of view.

To my way of thinking, redistricting reform is necessary because Illinois is severely lacking one very important thing – compromise. “Compromise” is often seen as a dirty word by those at either end of the political spectrum, but when it comes to passing a balanced budget it’s completely necessary. In my estimation, one should never compromise on the principles they know to be unequivocally true. But when the best interests of the people you are elected to represent hang in the balance, sometimes compromise is absolutely necessary. In this regard, compromise isn’t about “selling out” on your principles; it’s about both sides coming together in practice.

Let me give you an example. All of you remember the budget crisis our state is struggling through. Do you remember the budget that Speaker Madigan proposed to end the stalemate? It was an unconstitutional, out of balance and out of line spending plan that would have worsened the fiscal hemorrhaging and caused our state to descend into freefall. The “budget” was proposed shortly before it was to be voted on and we were given no time to read it. There was no time to discuss changes, and there was little time for communication between members. This bill was the antithesis of compromise.

That bill was made possible – and almost passed – because of the way Illinois legislative maps are drawn. And no, I don’t mean it was made possible because the maps favor one party (which they do); that bad bill was made possible because Illinois legislative districts are not competitive.

Let me be clear when I say this: competition breeds necessary compromise. Let’s say you are Representative Smith from central Illinois. Your district is solidly Republican because all the Democratic portions of your district have been carved out and given to Representative Jones. I’ll be Representative Jones in this example. Whereas your district is solidly Republican, my district is solidly Democratic. Year after year we both run unopposed for election, and if we do have opposition it isn’t serious. We never have to worry about losing our seats – unless we upset our respective political parties. Do you see where I’m going here?

In a world in which legislative district boundaries are drawn fairly, districts are contentiously fought over in elections. That means that representatives must listen to the voices of their constituents if they wish to be re-elected. In this world, party bosses do not have nearly as much influence over their members because the members are forced to care about what their constituents have to say if they want to be re-elected!

I am not pointing the finger here. In fact, I could be pointing the finger at myself. I represent what is considered to be a solidly safe district in terms of being elected and re-elected – however, it’s not something that I will ever take for granted. So while this would be preferable if I planned on becoming a career politician, that’s not something I have any interest in doing. If redistricting reform passes and my district becomes competitive then so be it. At least I know that maybe, just maybe, we can have some healthy compromise in this state.

As I told the ladies of the American Business Women’s Association: “If things were going well in Illinois, I would have never run for office.” That is why I chose to become involved in Illinois politics, and I look forward to the day when I can hang up my political boots because Illinois corrected its course and got back on the right track. Until then, I will be honored to represent you in Springfield and will continue to work tirelessly on your behalf.

As Henry Ford said, “Coming together is the beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” There are certain things on which we should come together and work together, and at the top of that list is working together for the good of Illinois.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.