SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois Republicans pounced on Gov. J.B. Pritzker Wednesday for his seeming change of heart on how legislative districts are drawn, urging the reform-minded governor to seize an opportunity to make a dent in the state’s long-reviled history of corruption.
Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie berated the governor for statements a day earlier in which the Democrat backed away from a 2018 campaign pledge to veto a Census-driven remap authored by legislators or political party leaders. Instead, he said that upon receiving a map drawn by Democrats who control the General Assembly, “I will be looking to it for its fairness.”
“The gerrymandering train is on the tracks,” McConchie, a Republican from Hawthorn Woods, said in his Capitol office. “Gov. Pritzker has considerable power as the chief executive to make his candidate promise a reality. If the governor abandons that promise, he abandons the best chance that we have to actually have changed the nature of our politics.”
The Senate Redistricting Committee’s ranking Republican, Sen. Jason Barickman of Bloomington, wants lawmakers to create a nonpartisan, independent commission to begin the process, an idea Pritzker claims would require a constitutional amendment which Republicans reject.
But as a candidate in 2018, Pritzker voiced support for an amendment while recommending that until then, lawmakers create an independent commission to take politics out of map-making.
Asked Wednesday for elaboration or explanation of the statement Barickman characterized as a “flip-flop,” Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh would not comment further.
Smarting from Monday’s release of U.S. Census data showing Illinois losing population for the first time since at least the Industrial Revolution, the Democrats’ redistricting leaders pledged to move forward with the once-a-decade process of adjusting political district boundaries based on population shifts and the accompanying loss of another seat in Congress.
Reapportionment must abide by the federal Voting Rights Act to prevent racial discrimination. By state constitution, districts must be “compact, contiguous and substantially equal in population.” But gerrymandering is often a byproduct of Illinois mapmaking as the party controlling the pen draws lines to maximize ballot power. It’s also a practice routinely mentioned by political reform advocates as a way to check corruption. Ethics reform is a priority for the governor.
The Constitution requires the General Assembly to create a map by June 30, a deadline which, if missed, puts the job into the hands of a legislatively appointed commission composed of a bipartisan mix of legislators and four non-lawmakers. If it can’t agree, the Secretary of State draws from a hat the name of a ninth member to tip the partisan balance. Since adoption of the 1970 Constitution, that’s occurred in 1981, 1991, and 2001. This year could mimic 2011, when a Democratic-controlled Legislature approved a map signed into law by a Democratic governor.
Democratic Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez of Chicago, chairwoman of the House Redistricting committee, did not respond to a request for comment on the GOP proposal.
Her Senate counterparts, Chicago Democratic Sens. Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims, jeered. They claimed Republicans want to eliminate input from the Legislature — and therefore, taxpayers – stalling long enough to blow the June 30 deadline and putting the decision directly into the hands of the constitutional commission, “political appointees who answer to power brokers, not the people of Illinois.”
That sentiment has little correlation with what Barickman is proposing. Sixteen independent members chosen by the Illinois Supreme Court would comprise his commission. It would go to work this spring and the process would survive constitutional challenge, Barickman said, because the new map committee’s work would have to be approved by the commission described in the constitution – with the caveat that appointees to the latter panel agree to approve it. Furthermore, McConchie said the true map deadline is Oct. 5, when a commission-created remap must be delivered to the secretary of state.
Barickman’s bill and a similar House proposal await floor action.
“There’s no reason for the governor to flip-flop on this very important issue…,” Barickman said. “Voters, not only do they not trust the governor, they just don’t trust government and the governor has an opportunity here to change that narrative.”
Illinois Constitution provisions for redistricting: https://bit.ly/2PACM7A
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor
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