The 'Cutback Amendment' and diversity in the House
By ROBERT B. SCHALLER
Cumulative voting usually guarantees that a minority party candidate will be elected to the Illinois House from each district. Legislative ratings by various interest groups show that these legislators tend to deviate from the "party line. " Would single-member districts end this diversity?
A NUMBER of interest groups publish ratings of the voting records of state representatives and senators on issues affecting the group's members. These groups include the following: Illinois State Chamber of Commerce, Illinois Manufacturers' Association, Illinois State AFL-CIO, Illinois Federation of Teachers, League of Women Voters of Illinois, Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organizations, Illinois Agricultural Association, and the Illinois Environmental Council. Although each interest group uses its ratings for a variety of purposes, ratings are generally used by all the groups to identify supportive legislators and provide the group's membership with a handy scorecard at election time.
The ratings have other uses, however. They can be used to gauge party divisions on business/labor issues, the ideological split on "good government" issues, the geographical division on agricultural issues and the mixture of differences on the environment. In addition, the ratings provide a clue to the effects that the elimination of cumulative voting and multi-member districts will have if the legislative "Cutback Amendment" is approved by Illinois voters on November 4.
Interest group ratings
The ratings compiled by the Illinois State Chamber of Commerce's Illinois Political Action Committee for the 1979 session (all the following ratings are from this session) clearly indicate the wide and predictable difference between the parties on business and labor issues. In the Senate, all Republicans are pro-business on the chamber's scale of 1-100. Each Republican senator scored 75 or above, and all but one Democratic senator was rated at 55 or below. In the House, the split is similar, but not quite as sharp. The Senate-House difference is partially due to cumulative voting, as the latter part of this article will explain.
The chamber's ratings are not idiosyncratic. The same divisions can be noted in the ratings of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association, the Illinois State AFL-CIO and the Illinois Federation of Teachers. And whatever divisions there are within each party on these issues is also reflected in the ratings. For example, the ratings of each group named show that Democratic legislators who are weakest in support of labor tend to represent districts outside of Chicago, while the relatively pro-labor House Republicans are Chicagoans (no GOP senators are very sympathetic to labor).
Strong partisan divisions are evident on other issues, but the split is nowhere sharper than on business/labor issues. The ratings of the League of Women Voters of Illinois illustrate this. Their ratings on a range of "good government" issues, including the environment, government reform, education and civil liberties, generally give Democrats higher marks than Republicans. But the separation is not clean, as is the case on business/labor issues where all, or almost all, Republicans are ranked as being more pro-business than Democrats, and almost all Democrats are ranked as being more pro-labor than Republicans. The League of Women Voters' ratings show the bottom rungs of the rating ladder occupied solely by Republicans and the top rungs occupied by Democrats, but the middle rungs are held by legislators from both parties. A similar overlap can be seen in the ratings of the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organizations.
A third division in the General Assembly is based on geography and is most evident when voting on agricultural issues is considered. Clearly, geography is more important than party on farm issues, although partisan differences are still an important factor. Ratings on farm-related bills are compiled by the Illinois Agricultural Association, which does not bother to rate Chicago legislators (although it does identify several who are "especially understanding of farmers' problems"). For the rest of the state, legislators from the Chicago suburbs tend to be rated lower than those from downstate, but there are partisan differences as well. The Illinois Agriculture Association's ratings also indicate that in almost every downstate legislative district containing a major city, Republicans are rated higher than Democrats. This suggests that in such districts Democrats, in effect, represent the cities and Republicans the rural areas. The exception to this pattern confirms it. In districts which are represented by two Democratic representatives and/or a Democratic senator, the ratings of the Democrats are on a par with those of Republicans. This seems to show that Democrats are more likely to dominate a downstate district's delegation only by adopting Republican-like positions on farm issues.
Legislative ratings on environmental issues are compiled by the Illinois Environmental Council. These ratings indicate that party, geography and ideological position are all factors in the way legislators vote on these issues. The council's ratings show a sharper partisan division than do those of the League of Women Voters, but not as sharp as those of labor or business groups. There are regional differences as well; downstate Democrats tend to be rated lower than other Democrats by the Illinois Environmental Council. The differences, however, are not large. Since environmental issues are relatively new in the legislative arena, it may be that legislative divisions on them are still embryonic and will soon emerge more sharply.
How would interests and divisions in the House be affected if cumulative voting and multi-member districts are
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eliminated? If the proposed Cutback Amendment to the Illinois Constitution is approved on November 4, it is likely that the minority party representative in many districts would not return to the House. In other words, in those districts which presently elect two GOP members and one Democrat, the chances are that the minority member (in this case, the Democrat) would not win either of the two new single-member district seats. The same will be true in those districts which are presently represented by two Democrats and one Republican. This pattern will not be followed in every case, of course. Local politics, issues, personalities — and how the district is split to create two single-member districts — will insure some deviation from the general pattern.
This pattern does not hold for suburban Democrats, however. They tend to be more liberal than their party as a whole, as measured by the ratings of the Independent Voters of Illinois-Independent Precinct Organizations (IVI-IPO), the League of Women Voters and the Illinois Environmental Council. Only the AFL-CIO ratings show suburban Democrats to be more conservative (less pro-labor) than the rest of their colleagues.
The inescapable conclusion is that cumulative voting tends to encourage diversity in both parties. Minority Republicans in Chicago and minority Democrats downstate tend to take positions on business/labor and agricultural issues that are not the traditional positions of their respective parties. The ranks of moderates in both parties would be reduced in greater proportion than the overall reduction in the House if the Cutback Amendment is approved. This conclusion is supported by the ratings of all business and labor groups. AFL-CIO and Illinois Federation of Teacher ratings also indicate that the proportion of members at the extremes (pro-labor Democrats and anti-labor Republicans) would increase.
The IVI-IPO ratings also show that the ranks of "good government" supporters would probably be significantly reduced. Given the "good government," anti-party position of Patrick Quinn's Coalition for Political Honesty and other reform groups supporting the Cutback Amendment, it is ironic that their amendment may actually strengthen the parties and undercut support for "good government" positions.
It could be argued, of course, that the minority representatives from each party tend to cancel out each other's vote, but there can be no doubt that they do broaden the range of positions within their respective parties and, perhaps, influence party policy by moving it closer to the middle range of political opinion. Without minority party members, partisan polarization would be intensified, which, it could be said, might encourage the clarification of controversial issues. The question for voters is whether the presence of moderates and independents in both parties improves or diminishes the effectiveness of the House.
A former Sangamon State University legislative intern, Robert B. Schaller is now a graduate student at the School of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley.
10/November 1980/Illinois Issues