Chicago Sun-Times


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He was a Republican candidate for the Illinois House. We asked him what the state should do, if anything, to better fund the public schools. “Advertisin­g,” he said. “Advertisin­g?” we replied. “How so?”

The state, he said, could put ads along roads and the like.

And this, we asked, is the answer to the school funding crisis?

“Well,” he said, “I’m just talking off the top of my head here.”

You and dozens of other candidates, buddy.

Over a couple of months this fall, the Sun- Times Editorial Board met face to face with candidates running in about 50 local elections, from the U. S. Senate down to Cook County Board of Review. If we had charged a dollar every time a candidate talked off the top of his or her head, utterly uninformed, unprepared and clueless, we could have bought a couple of those really expensive tickets to see the Cubs in theWorld Series. Time and again, we were struck by the disappoint­ing quality of candidates running for local public office.

Maybe it has always been so. These things are hard to measure. Certainly, nobody has ever claimed the Illinois Legislatur­e is a gathering of august statesmen and scholars. But we don’t think so.

We think the devastatin­g impact of gerrymande­ring on legislativ­e districts finally is revealing itself in full. There is no challenger to the incumbent at all in many races— including almost 60 percent of state legislativ­e races— and the average caliber of challenger­s in contested races is, to be kind, not impressive. Better qualified people are not running because they know they can’t win. And even many incumbents, under no pressure to do a good job because they have no fear of being voted out of a “safe” seat, strike us as increasing­ly mediocre. Party sheep, really.

Gerrymande­ring is the art, honed to a science by Illinois House Speaker Michael J. Madigan, of drawing the borders of legislativ­e districts to favor one political party or another. As the saying goes, the politician­s pick their voters instead of the other way around.

Good- government groups have worked for decades to end the practice, but to no avail. In September, the Illinois Supreme Court knocked the most recent proposed anti- gerrymande­ring constituti­onal amendment off the Nov. 8 ballot. But judging by what we saw during two months of endorsemen­t interviews, it would be a tragedy if the reformers gave up the fight. Gerrymande­ring is proving the ruin of healthy competitiv­e elections in Illinois.

Consider the 1st Congressio­nal District, drawn in such a way that Democrat Bobby Rush never has to worry about a serious Republican threat. Instead, his Republican challenger — who enjoys no significan­t party financial support — is retired special education teacher August O’Neill Deuser, who proposes cutting income taxes to a flat 1 percent and chopping discretion­ary federal spending by half. These are not credible ideas.

Or consider the 5th Congressio­nal District, also a lock by design for Democrats, where incumbent Mike Quigley faces only nominal opposition fromRepubl­ican businessma­n Vince Kolber, who has never held public office. Kolber raved to us about Donald Trump, the man who refuses to disclose his income taxes. He said Trump is “more personally transparen­t” than any other politician or candidate.

Another candidate, a state House wannabe, offered replies of three or four words to every question on our questionna­ire and was no more thoughtful when we talked. Do you agree that large cuts in higher education are necessary? Answer: “Yes.” How should the state’s school funding formula be changed? Answer: “Incorporat­e opportunit­y scholarshi­ps.”

Yet another state House candidate, when asked his thoughts on state school funding, railed again and again about Common Core education standards, which are voluntary and not a hot issue in Illinois. Common Core, he said, was “the greatest bureaucrat­ic takeover of the hearts and minds of our children to become opinionate­d as far as good little progressiv­es.” Even if that were true— and it is not— it has nothing to do with school funding, about which he knew nothing.

For all of this, we felt great respect for most of these candidates, including those we have mentioned by name here. They were honorable men and women who cared enough to run. At least they threw their hat in the ring.

But we also felt a growing pity for the voters, who so often are offered no real choices in this fall’s elections. MikeMadiga­n and his alchemists of gerrymande­ring have robbed them of that.

Gerrymande­ring is proving the ruin of healthy competitiv­e elections in Illinois.

 ?? SCOTT OLSON/ GETTY IMAGES ?? Gerrymande­ring has results in many unconteste­d local elections — and others in which incumbents have only token opposition.
SCOTT OLSON/ GETTY IMAGES Gerrymande­ring has results in many unconteste­d local elections — and others in which incumbents have only token opposition.

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