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Praise and frustration after Illinois Dems release legislative maps

Illinois Democrats are defending the new boundaries they've proposed for state legislative districts. Two hearings on the maps were held over the weekend in Chicago.

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.

House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, acknowledges the boundaries were drawn in ways that could help her party.

"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.

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."

"Is there a general principal that you used or a particular standard in the data that you used?" Fortner asked.

"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."

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.

"Our analysis indicates that Latino residents have been short-changed by the current proposal," Torres said.

Another Latino group is pleased with the plan. Juan Rangel heads UNO, the United Neighborhood Organization. He said the map strikes a balance among minority groups.

"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."

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.

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."

"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.

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.

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