‘Transparency’ on Illinois legislative maps begins behind closed doors
Democratic state lawmakers were given a private look at new Illinois House district maps. Partisan legislative maps and gerrymandering seem to be surviving ‘transparency.’
When Illinois House Speaker Chris Welch’s staff huddled recently with Democrats to review early drafts of the House district maps in the bowels of the Capitol, it was a page out of the old playbook.
“Meeting with members is nothing new,” Welch’s spokeswoman Jaclyn Driscoll told WCIA news. “In fact, the room we’re talking to members in is actually the same we met in 10 years ago. This is and will remain a transparent process.”
Transparent, but privately behind closed doors?
Gov. J.B. Pritzker long promised to veto any gerrymandered maps, including earlier this year. On the campaign trail in 2018, Pritzker supported an amendment to Illinois’ constitution to take the redistricting process out of state legislators’ hands and instead send it to an independent commission.
“We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map,” Pritzker said in 2018.
But the governor recently flip-flopped on the veto promise, saying he trusted lawmakers to create a fair map.
U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, led the chorus of boos.
“Gov. Pritzker lied to the people of Illinois, plain and simple,” Davis said. “When he was a candidate for governor in 2018, Pritzker made an ironclad promise to voters that he would veto any redistricting proposal that was drawn by legislators.”
The U.S. and Illinois constitutions require district maps be redrawn every 10 years with the latest census data determining representation. The COVID-19 pandemic has delayed those census numbers, so the maps presented to Illinois House Democrats were based on estimates.
While Republicans have called for Democrats to wait until it becomes available before drawing the maps, data will not be released until after the constitutional deadline of June 30 for the legislature to send a map to the governor for approval. Data is not expected until late September.
Welch’s office offered assurances the public will have the necessary time to review the proposed maps and offer feedback before the final lines are drawn.
“Our bipartisan Redistricting Committee has worked tirelessly to ensure all voices are heard,” Driscoll said. “We’ll continue to listen, gather, and analyze input from the public and we strongly encourage participation from everyone.”
Although Illinois Senate President Don Harmon recently promised “inclusion” and called “for room at the table,” early indications point to business as usual as Democrats run a hurry-up offense in an effort to draw new congressional maps without added input from Republicans.
If the General Assembly cannot pass a redistricting bill, there is an eight-member backup redistricting commission with four members from each party. If that group cannot agree, a tiebreaker is drawn that could give either party the power to sway the maps.
Three of the past four redistricting cycles saw that come to pass, leading to a winner-take-all mapping process. Both parties have drawn maps to their advantage when they had the ability.
The way to end that is to join 14 other states with independent mapping commissions. That is, if lawmakers and Pritzker are truly serious about killing the Illinois gerrymander.