Illinois Lawmakers Approve New Political Maps, Despite Republican Concerns

Jason Barickman
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, wants Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stand by his pledge to reject a map drawn by politicians and support one drawn by an independent commission. But the Democratic-led legislature passed the new political maps Friday over GOP objections. Associated Press / Associated Press
Jason Barickman
Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, wants Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker to stand by his pledge to reject a map drawn by politicians and support one drawn by an independent commission. But the Democratic-led legislature passed the new political maps Friday over GOP objections. Associated Press / Associated Press

Illinois Lawmakers Approve New Political Maps, Despite Republican Concerns

Illinois Democrats pushed through their plans Friday night to redraw the district boundaries of the state legislature, state Supreme Court and the Cook County Board of Review – despite objections from Republicans and groups concerned with minority representation.

Movement on the politically-charged political remap, which could lock in Democratic majorities in the General Assembly and the state’s high court for the next decade, dominated a busy legislative day in Springfield as a planned Monday adjournment looms with a stack of still-unfinished business.

The state Senate and, later, the House both approved new legislative maps on partisan roll calls with the top Democrat in the Senate insisting the new political boundaries reflect the true demographic face of Illinois.

“These are fair maps that live up to our promise to reflect the diversity of this state,” said Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.

The Senate also gave final legislative approval to a Democratic redrawing of state Supreme Court boundaries to replace existing court districts that have stood since 1964. It was a move Republicans said was driven by Democrats wanting to shore up their uninterrupted 52-year control of the state’s high court.

The once-a-decade practice of drawing new legislative districts determines which elected officials represent voters and how much political power and influence certain groups of voters will enjoy until the next U.S. census.

The process has been bitterly partisan. Republicans, who hold a super minority of seats in the statehouse, accused Democrats of blocking everyone else from understanding the factors they used to draw the new maps. The acrimony was on display Friday during debates in the Illinois House.

“It’s a map that will be modeled nationwide,” State Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Chicago, said on the House floor to loud, mocking laughter from Republicans. The GOP has voiced concerns that Democrats drew maps to help them retain their power and keep a majority of seats on the Supreme Court.

“This has been a complete mockery of the process of what we’ve seen over the last couple months,” said Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield.

But Democratic State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, fired back in a debate Friday night.

“I have a 4-year-old grandson. He colors with crayons. He’s drawn a better map than you guys have,” Hoffman said. “Because you don’t have a map. You didn’t even put one together.”

During debate in the Senate, partisan tempers also flared.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, implored Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker to scuttle the legislative map and follow his 2018 campaign pledge to block a partisan-drawn redistricting plan.

“Governor, veto this map and this shameful process by which it was produced,” said Barickman, who is weighing a potential 2022 run against Pritzker should the governor seek re-election.

A few moments later, Harmon laid into Republicans and their gripes about needing to forego a vote on legislative redistricting until final 2020 U.S. Census data is released later this year. The release of that federal data has been delayed by the pandemic, and Illinois Republicans have raised concerns that the numbers Democrats used to draw their maps aren’t accurate.

“We would not be here if Donald Trump’s Commerce Department had even a passing interest in an accurate and prompt Census,” Harmon said, drawing jeers from Senate Republicans.

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 random drawing, giving super-minority Republicans a chance at relevance in Springfield unseen since the 1990s.Democrats argue that their proposed maps would preserve representation of communities of color at the statehouse. Demographic summaries released late Thursday by House Democrats showed 15 newly drawn House districts were majority African American, while 14 newly drawn districts have 50% or more Latino population.

Those numbers are pretty consistent with the racial demography from 10 years ago, when the current House boundaries were imposed. Then, there were 16 majority African American and 14 majority Latino House districts.

But by using estimated census data and pushing the maps through the House just hours after making them public, Democrats heard harsh criticisms from advocacy groups who argued for better representation of people of color.

“Until you send a message that inclusion counts, it’s just talk,” said an emotional Dilara Sayeed, president and co-founder of the Illinois Muslim Civic Coalition. “And until you allow a community like ours to have zero representation or a community to be underrepresented in the year 2021, we can’t move forward. We can’t have 10 more years of this.”

Both Democrats and Republicans tread carefully in both the wording of their questions and how they answered them during Friday’s debates, as if they were aware that their arguments would be picked apart by lawyers down the road as part of an inevitable lawsuit challenging the validity of the new political maps.

Lawmakers did not release new district maps for the Illinois Congressional delegation. Due to 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.

There is a growing sense in Democratic congressional circles that no such map will emerge until after Illinois receives actual U.S. Census data to diminish the chances of any future GOP legal challenges to those boundaries.

If that happens, Illinois Democrats would have to explain why they waited for quality data on one set of political maps yet approved other political maps for the legislature, state Supreme Court and Board of Review that were built with potentially less reliable demographic data.

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