WBEZ | Mike Fortner http://www.wbez.org/tags/mike-fortner Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Redistricting no mystery to General Assembly scientist http://www.wbez.org/story/redistricting-no-mystery-general-assembly-scientist-89790 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-July/2011-07-28/mike fortner.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Republicans are fighting in court against a new map of state legislative districts. And they've been relying on a physics professor for expertise in crunching the numbers. It helps that Professor Mike Fortner&nbsp; is also a colleague--a fellow lawmaker in the Illinois General Assembly.</p><p>If you close your eyes and imagine what a physics professor looks like, you might picture Mike Fortner.</p><p>It’s a&nbsp;sweltering afternoon at Northern Illinois University, and &nbsp;Professor Fortner, in a wrinkled shirt and glasses, is talking physics. Even his students wouldn’t guess he’s also a politician.</p><p>"He just seems like the straight-laced professor," one student said.</p><p>Fortner is one of 54 Republicans in the Illinois House. He’s the only scientist -- a numbers junkie surrounded by attorneys and business owners.&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;</p><p>His colleagues have depended on him more than usual this year – not because he’s an expert on particle collision, which he is – but because he’s an expert on redistricting.</p><p>"Mike is our party’s go to person in the caucus. He has a mind that thrives on mathematics and he enjoys that type of challenge, and I think that shows in the redistricting process," said state Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst), one of Fornter's colleagues and a friend.</p><p>Their party filed a lawsuit recently challenging the new General Assembly map. They filed a separate lawsuit Wednesday against the congressional map. District boundaries change every 10 years based on population shifts.&nbsp; The party in control, in this case the Democrats, gets to decide where the new lines are drawn.</p><p>For Fortner, redistricting is where his worlds of politics and science converge.</p><p>"Obviously, it involves a lot of numbers. A lot of numeric data and being able to manipulate large volumes of numbers is something I do in my research and working as a physicist as well," Fortner said.</p><p>He showed that systematic approach during hearings this spring, quizzing Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie &nbsp;for hours about her party’s map proposal.</p><p>"He was using the playbook he was given, and that’s fair," Currie said. "I don’t think he laid a glove on our expert witness but I certainly understand why he was anxious to try to do so."</p><p>Fortner first got involved in politics in his home town of West Chicago.More than 20 years ago, he and his wife bought a house built in the 1800s. Fortner volunteered to serve on the town’s historic preservation committee. From there, he followed the path many politicians do: He served on a school board, followed by the city council and then in&nbsp;2001, he was elected mayor of West Chicago. Six years into that job, he ran for state representative.</p><p>One thing he’s heard over the years is that he doesn’t seem like a politician.</p><p>"I’ve had a lot of people mention that," he said. "I think they’re not used to scientists and physicist in particular being active in politics. They still don’t expect it. I think they picture all politicians are lawyers."</p><p>Lots of politicians are lawyers, but in the General Assembly they’re also farmers, teachers – even an embalmer.</p><p>When he’s not in Springfield or at the university, Fortner might be in Batavia at Fermilab hovering over a microscope.</p><p>"We were in my office one day after many of these hearings and I said&nbsp; what do you do for a hobby? And he looked at me and said that redistricting was actually a hobby for him," Reboletti said.</p><p>A couple years ago, Fortner entered a contest organized by good government groups in Ohio to redraw districts there.</p><p>He spent his weekends working on it. He won</p><p>"I got a nice certificate from Secretary of State Brunner," Fortner said.</p><p>The map he helped Illinois Republicans draw this year is part of the state redistricting lawsuit now making its way through court. His map also was in bill form this spring. It was sent straight to the Rules Committee, where House Speaker Michael Madigan is in charge.</p><p>There, it promptly died.</p></p> Fri, 29 Jul 2011 10:48:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/redistricting-no-mystery-general-assembly-scientist-89790 Praise and frustration after Illinois Dems release legislative maps http://www.wbez.org/story/praise-and-frustration-after-illinois-dems-release-legislative-maps-86881 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-May/2011-05-22/photo 1.JPG" alt="" /><p><p>Illinois Democrats are defending the new boundaries they've proposed for state legislative districts.&nbsp;Two hearings on the maps were held over the weekend in Chicago.</p><p>Democrats hold the governor's office and both chambers of the legislature, putting them in control of the mapmaking. The lines are redrawn every ten years using new Census data.</p><p>House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, acknowledges the boundaries were drawn in ways that could help her party.</p><p>"While we believe this plan is politically fair, we don't deny that partisan concerns from time to time played a role," Currrie said at a Sunday hearing of the House Redistricting Committee, which she chairs.</p><p>State Rep. Mike Fortner of West Chicago, the top Republican on the committee, asked Currie for evidence that the map is, as she described it, "competitive" and "fair."</p><p>"Is there a general principal that you used or a particular standard in the data that you used?" Fortner asked.</p><p>"I don't have a standard to enable me to answer that question specifically," Currie replied. "But just looking at the map and looking at how the populations have shifted, and how the districts have shifted, my own sense is that it is a politically competitive map."</p><p>Meanwhile, some minority groups are split over whether to support the proposed boundaries. Martin Torres with the Latino Policy Forum told the committee that the Democratic map does not do enough to reflect his community's population growth.</p><p>"Our analysis indicates that Latino residents have been short-changed by the current proposal," Torres said.</p><p>Another Latino group is pleased with the plan.&nbsp;Juan Rangel heads UNO, the United Neighborhood Organization. He said the map strikes a balance among minority groups.</p><p>"It may be possible to draw even more Latino districts," Rangel testified. "However, we believe that that would come at the expense of African-American districts."</p><p>The state House committee, and its Senate counterpart, held more than two dozen public hearings around the state in recent weeks. After the draft maps were released late last week, three other hearings were scheduled - two this weekend in Chicago and a third on Tuesday, in Springfield.</p><p>Some people testifying on Sunday asked that a final vote on the maps be delayed. They noted that the proposed boundaries for U.S. House districts had not yet been made public. In a sharply worded statement to the committee, Whitney Woodward from the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform called that "inexcusable."</p><p>"In the spirit of transparency that this committee has said it seeks to embrace, ICPR asks...this committee and the General Assembly to release a draft of those districts and summary language, and hold another set of regional public hearings at least a week after the posting of that information," Woodward said.</p><p>A delay that long is unlikely, though, as top Democrats want the maps approved before May 31st. After that, the proposal would need Republican votes in order to pass.</p></p> Sun, 22 May 2011 22:45:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/story/praise-and-frustration-after-illinois-dems-release-legislative-maps-86881