John Oliver gibes at Illinois, late state senator during segment on remapping

Kevin HoffmanReboot Illinois

Apr 11, 2017

(Skip to the 10:40 minute mark for the part about Illinois)

During a segment on Sunday’s episode of “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” the HBO show’s host took issue with partisan gerrymandering and the power it gives Democratic and Republican lawmakers when it comes to redrawing voting districts in a way that benefits their party.

Oliver was highlighting some examples of how Republicans across the country have rigged maps in their favor before pointing to a few states in which Democrats have done the same. He brought up Illinois’ redistricting cycle after the 2000 Census, when both chambers of the state Legislature couldn’t agree on a remapping plan and neither could the eight-member backup commission that assumes map-drawing responsibilities when the General Assembly is deadlocked.

When that happens, the Illinois Supreme Court must select two individuals — a Democrat and Republican — to cast the potential tie-breaking vote. Those names are then drawn out of a hat. Secretary of State Jesse White drew the name of former Democratic Supreme Court Justice Michael Bilandic, who broke the tie.

“Take Illinois. In 2001, Democrats won the right to redistrict there after — and this is for reasons too complicated and too stupid to explain — a name was pulled out of a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s stovepipe hat,” Oliver quipped. “But just watch as one Democratic lawmaker made the least convincing promise ever.”

The lawmaker he’s referring to is the late Democratic state Sen. Vince Demuzio of downstate Carlinville, who says in an old video clip, “Well, we’ll sit down and draw a very fair map,” before turning his head away from the reporter with what seems to be a slight smirk. Demuzio served in the Senate from 1975 until 2004, when he died from colon cancer.

Oliver went on to mock Demuzio: “Come on! That’s an inherently suspicious look on his face. That’s the exact expression of someone who just urinated in a public pool,” he says as a photoshopped image of Demuzio shirtless in a pool appears on the screen.

“Water’s warm today, huh? Enjoy your swim,” Oliver adds as the audience laughs.

Understandably, Demuzio’s widow and mayor of Carlinville, Deanna Demuzio, didn’t find that part of the segment very funny, telling the Chicago Tribune, “It’s one thing to talk about gerrymandering, but I did not find the humor in his portraying my husband, who is now deceased, in that manner.”

Since 2014, the courts have struck down two attempts to change the state’s redistricting process by placing a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment on the ballot that would take away the map-drawing power from legislative leaders of the majority party and give it to an independent commission.

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