The most gratifying element of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's State of the State address in Springfield (Jan. 29) had nothing directly to do with policy. It was the undeniable undercurrent of state pride that ran throughout the speech.

If only that could have been the dominant point to consider.

While much of the governor's rhetoric followed a self-congratulatory script familiar from political leaders, he also built on that tone to suggest that advances may actually be possible on long-neglected issues like ethics, pensions and property taxes.

Which makes it all the more disappointing that he didn't raise the elephant-in-the-room enabler lurking behind all these topics — legislative redistricting.

It is all well and irrefutably good for the governor to declare, as he did Wednesday, that "the old patronage system needs to die, finally and completely" and that we can't "sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist." But it is just as important, perhaps even more important, to acknowledge that a key factor allowing those conditions to persist is a system of political mapmaking that lets the individuals engaged in them solidify and extend their power.

On ethics, in particular, Pritzker called for concrete actions — an end to lawmakers moonlighting as lobbyists (or vice versa), closing the revolving door that allows retiring lawmakers to immediately cash in on their government experience and lobby for special interests, more transparency in disclosing conflicts of interests.

On property taxes, too, he said many of the right things — statutory incentives encourage local governments to max out their levies unnecessarily, the state can find ways to support local governments and lower property taxes and local taxpayers need more authority to consolidate units of government.

These are refreshingly specific objectives, yet for that very reason, they are also worrisome.

That the governor was so explicit in identifying symptoms of the state's self-interested power culture yet so barren of discussion about its foundations raises disheartening doubts that the meaningful long-term systemic reforms he called for can come to pass — or last very long, if some approximation of reform does manage to materialize.

"Let's not let the well-connected and well-protected work the system while the interests of ordinary citizens are forgotten," Pritzker said, and we applaud him for that.

But let's also not forget what allows leaders to become "well-connected and well-protected," a redistricting system that allows them to distribute voters in such a way that it gives them control over elections.

Among all the worthy topics the governor raised this week, one of the most worthy and one of the most urgent was overlooked. If a Fair Maps Amendment does not make the November ballot, Illinois residents will be bequeathed at least 10 more years of corruptly drawn political boundaries.

And sanguine rhetoric, no matter how welcome, will ring hollow beneath the din of cynicism that will continue to plague our political dialogue.

Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, Jan. 31

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