Illinois Democrats Release New Legislative Maps Marking The Start Of A Partisan Showdown

Illinois State Capitol
Illinois Democrats released a new legislative map. Seth Perlman / Associated Press
Illinois State Capitol
Illinois Democrats released a new legislative map. Seth Perlman / Associated Press

Illinois Democrats Release New Legislative Maps Marking The Start Of A Partisan Showdown

Illinois Democrats released new legislative maps late Friday that aim to serve as a template to control Springfield through the 2020s and to protect the political clout of African American and Latino communities throughout the state.

Republicans immediately seized on the new redistricting proposal as a brazen show of partisan muscle-flexing by Democrats and called on Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker to veto the proposed district boundaries for 59 state senators and 118 state representatives.

The handiwork of nearly five months of planning by Democrats hinges on estimated results rather than actual, certified population counts from the U.S. Census Bureau that won’t be available for Illinois and other states until late summer, a delay caused by the pandemic.

But the top Senate Democrat overseeing the process championed the maps that went online shortly after 7:30 p.m. Friday.

“Redistricting is about making sure all voices are heard, and that’s exactly what this map accomplishes. This is a fair map that reflects the great diversity of our state and ensures every person receives equal representation in the General Assembly,” said Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee.

“I’m grateful to all of the community groups and organizations who engaged in this process in a meaningful way and look forward to continuing those conversations in the coming days,” he said in a prepared statement.

The proposed legislative boundaries to replace those that have been in effect since 2011 will be the subject of four hearings next week as a scheduled May 31st adjournment of the General Assembly looms. They can be viewed online here and here. Formal legislation is expected to be filed early next week.

The ranking Republican on the Senate Redistricting Committee condemned the new maps put forward late Friday, saying they completely ignored requests to wait for actual census data and to allow an independent commission to redraw legislative districts.

“In a disappointing, but not surprising move, the Democratic majorities…posted a new politician-drawn legislative map designed behind locked doors to cement their grip on power at the expense of Illinois families,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington.

He also called on Pritzker, who once advocated for an independent redistricting commission and threatened to veto any map drawn by legislators or their staffs, to stick by his word.

“The governor should keep his promise, or he will join a long list of politicians who say one thing and do another,” said Barickman, who has been mentioned in some GOP circles as a potential 2022 rival to Pritzker should the governor seek re-election.

What’s striking about Friday’s release is the absence of congressional or judicial boundaries, which each carry their own, unique political storylines. It’s not clear when those maps will wind up emerging or, in the case of new Supreme Court districts, whether they will emerge at all.

Because of a population decline of less than a percentage point since 2010, Illinois is certain to lose one of its 18 congressional seats, and that is likely to come in GOP political turf downstate.

Democrats in Washington regard solid-blue Illinois as one pathway to soften the loss of Democratic seats in the U.S. House to rapidly growing Sun Belt states, which gained representation and are controlled mostly by Republicans. Illinois’ current 13-5 Democrat versus Republican congressional composition is expected to tilt even more one-sidedly Democratic under new boundaries.

There’s no immediate deadline under Illinois’ constitution to pass a congressional map, though candidate filing for the March 15, 2022, primary election opens Nov. 22 and closes a week later.

But Democrats wanted to move quickly on the legislative maps by month’s end because the state constitution dictates that if new House and Senate boundaries aren’t drawn and passed by June 30, a bipartisan commission gets formed to settle the matter.

If that eight-member commission, made up equally of Republicans and Democrats, were to deadlock, control of the process would come down to a drawing, giving super-minority Republicans a chance at relevance in Springfield unseen since the 1990s.

Dave McKinney and Tony Arnold cover Illinois politics and government for WBEZ. Follow them @davemckinney and @tonyjarnold.