Illinois Democrats approved a new set of congressional boundaries Thursday that left Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Newman the political odd woman out, putting her in a potential longshot primary against longtime U.S. Rep. Jesus “Chuy” Garcia.
Voting on a new set of congressional boundaries was the biggest development on a long legislative day that also included final passage of a change sought by Gov. JB Pritzker to stop workers from getting around vaccine mandates by invoking the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act.
Lawmakers also took action on a package of incentives for electric vehicle manufacturers — another Pritzker priority — and a gambling package that would allow betting on university sporting events and permit wagering at Wintrust Arena, home of the WNBA world-champion Chicago Sky.
The fate of the politically contentious congressional map was in question for much of the day Thursday with talk of potentially booting the issue to January, when fewer votes would be necessary for passage.
“I’m here to stand behind the work we’ve done,” said Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. “We’ve shown our maps to the public. We’ve presented them in hearing after hearing after hearing. We’ve refined them based on the input we’ve gotten, and I’m proud of this map. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done. This is the right thing to do. This is a fair map, and it reflects the diversity of the state of Illinois.”
The House needed 71 votes to pass the measure, and two Democrats were not on that roll call. Southwest Side state Rep. Angelica Guerrero-Cuellar, D-Chicago, was the only Democratic “no” vote. State Rep. Kelly Cassidy, D-Chicago, did not vote.
But Republicans mocked the Democrats’ cartographic handiwork.
“This will be the most gerrymandered map in the country, and this process will be used as the poster child for why politicians should never be allowed to draw their own maps,” said state Sen. Donald DeWitte, R-St. Charles.
“Your maps will only cause further polarization in the state of Illinois and in this great country. Voters will have fewer choices. Elections will not be competitive, and the need for compromise that our voters demand will exist less and less,” he said.
The congressional maps shrink the state’s current 18-member congressional delegation by one seat because of Illinois’ declining population. But even with that lessened influence in Washington, Democrats configured the remaining 17 seats in a way favorable to Democrats in 14 of the districts.
If Illinois Democrats win next year in the districts that historically have trended their way, they would wind up with a three-seat net gain in Washington, a small but nonetheless important contribution to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s bid to stay in power.
Two earlier drafts of Illinois’ congressional maps had Newman inside U.S. Rep. Sean Casten’s congressional district, setting up the prospect of a highly expensive primary next year between two friends within the state’s congressional delegation.
Now, with the new map, Newman, a LaGrange Democrat, faces the prospect of running against one of the most popular political faces of Chicago’s Latino community. The district Newman has been moved into, alongside Garcia, is composed of 63% Latino voting-age population, legislative data showed.
The move left Newman embittered.
“The most recently proposed map is a clear attempt to appease one person and a small handful of affluent insiders at the expense of workers and working families on Chicago’s Southwest Side and suburbs,” she said, referring to Casten.
“Illinois residents deserve fair representation and a fair map that includes public input — not one that turns a blind eye to it.This map undoubtedly does not live up to what Illinois residents deserve,” Newman said.
The U.S. Constitution doesn’t require those running for Congress live within their districts, but it’s rare when they don’t because candidates would be vulnerable to “carpetbagger” attacks from rivals. Because of that lack of a residency requirement, Newman could still run against Casten or any other district of her choosing, including a new Latino-leaning district that lacks an incumbent.
In a statement released after the map’s final passage early Friday, Casten did not directly respond to Newman claims.
“Each decade, our state assembly has an important constitutional obligation to ensure Illinoisans have congressional representation that reflects the vast geography and diversity of our state,” Casten said. “I remain focused on fighting for my constituents as we work to make historic investments in climate action, families, and workers for the sixth district of Illinois.”
A spokesman for Garcia did not respond to WBEZ about the map’s latest iteration.
That second Latino-heavy district with no incumbent stretches from Chicago’s Logan Square and Humboldt Park neighborhoods on the city’s North Side west through suburban Bensenville, Des Plaines and West Chicago.
Democratic mapmakers also lumped incumbent Republicans in two different districts, creating the potential for competitive primaries in central and far southern Illinois.
GOP U.S. Reps. Darin LaHood, of Dunlap, and Adam Kinzinger, of Channahon, are in the new 16th congressional district.
Kinzinger hasn’t made clear whether he intends to seek another term in Congress, run for statewide office or test the political waters nationally in a bid to deter Donald Trump from winning another term in the White House in 2024. After the previous maps were released, Kinzinger in a statement suggested that he may not run for re-election, saying that he is “reviewing all of the options, including those outside the House.”
Democrats also pitted GOP U.S. Reps Mary Miller, of Oakland, and Mike Bost, of Murphysboro, against one another in a district covering roughly the southern third of Illinois. Both are avid Trump supporters, with Miller appearing alongside Trump acolyte, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, during a downstate fundraiser earlier this year.
In other matters, Illinois legislators on Thursday approved Pritzker-backed changes to the state’s Health Care Right of Conscience Act — an existing 44-year-old state law, which offers liability protections for medical practitioners unwilling to perform abortions or offer contraception on moral grounds.
But the law has been cited increasingly by educators and police officers trying to defend against potential job losses for defying COVID-19 vaccine mandates by their government employers.
Democrats who support changing the act to explicitly note that the law does not offer protections for those wanting to sidestep mandated COVID-19 vaccinations couldn’t muster enough support to allow the change to go into effect immediately, settling for an effective date of June 1, 2022. It’s likely they will attempt to approve the changes again in January, when it takes fewer votes for an immediate effective date.
Late Thursday, Pritzker praised its passage.
“The Health Care Right of Conscience Act was never meant to put vulnerable people in harm’s way,” the governor said. “This legislation clarifies existing law’s intent without infringing on federal protections. Ultimately, this means we can keep kids in school, businesses open, neighbors safe, and continue on the path to bring this pandemic to an end.”
Legislators also approved a gambling expansion package that would allow Wintrust Arena, where the WNBA Champion Chicago Sky play, to establish a gambling venue, known as a sports book.
It would also allow bets on Illinois collegiate sports, though bets could only be placed in-person. Bets could not be placed on an individual collegiate athlete’s performance.
Several of the state’s higher education institutions, including Northwestern University and the University of Illinois, opposed the legislation. The U of I’s athletic director warned legislators earlier this year that letting people bet on their games could make online harassment of athletes even worse than it already is.