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Remap flap: Democrats release new state legislative maps they call ‘fair’ — but GOP dub straight from ‘Mike Madigan playbook’

The maps released Friday are just for Illinois House and Senate districts – not the state’s Congressional or state Supreme Court districts. The maps also chart a path for a heated partisan battle, one likely to include lawsuits as legislators work to pass a map.

The Illinois House meets in Springfield in 2015.
The Illinois House meets in Springfield in 2015.
Seth Perlman/AP file

After weeks of Republican accusations of secrecy, Democrats released newly drawn state legislative maps that they said were designed to “ensure the broad racial and geographic diversity” of Illinois Friday evening — a move the GOP denounced as “another attempt to mislead voters in an effort to block fair elections.”

But Democrats on the legislative redistricting panels characterized the after-business-hours release as anything but a Friday evening news dump — a move often used by officials to bury unfavorable news or minimize public scrutiny.

“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,” state Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, chair of the Senate’s redistricting committee, said in a statement.

“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.”

State Sen. Elgie Sims, left, and state Sen. Omar Aquino, who headed the Democratic efforts to draw the new maps, met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in April over Zoom.
State Rep. Elgie Sims, left, and state Sen. Omar Aquino, who are heading the Democratic efforts on the new maps, met with the Sun-Times Editorial Board in April over Zoom.
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The Illinois constitution requires new legislative maps every ten years to reflect population shifts detected in the U.S. Census. The Illinois House and Senate maps released Friday were based on data from the American Census Survey, not the actual Census numbers, which have not yet been released.

The maps released Friday are just for Illinois House and Senate districts — not the state’s Congressional or state Supreme Court districts.

The state legislative district maps from the House and Senate redistricting committees incorporate “suggestions gathered during more than 45 public hearings held across the state as legislators sought input on how to best ensure communities across Illinois receive fair and equal representation,” according to a news release accompanying the maps.

The maps also chart a path for a heated partisan battle, one likely to include lawsuits as legislators work to pass a map.

Response from Republicans was swift.

“Tonight’s drop of partisan maps is yet another attempt to mislead voters in an effort to block fair elections,” said state Rep. Tim Butler, the Republican spokesperson of the House Redistricting Committee. “After so many promises made by Democrats to have an open and transparent process involving the public.

“We continue our call upon Governor Pritzker to live up to his pledge to the people of Illinois and veto a map that was drawn by politicians like what we see here today.”

Peoria Republican state Rep. Ryan Spain said in a statement “releasing new partisan maps late on a Friday night proves that the Mike Madigan playbook continues in the Illinois House.”

“In a further attempt to skirt any transparency, Democrats dropped partisan maps drawn in a locked room by politicians who hand selected their voters,” his statement continued.

Butler and Spain held a news conference earlier this month outside that map room, the same backroom Madigan used ten years ago to draw new maps.

State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, points to the door to the room where Democrats are drawing new legislative maps in Springfield earlier this month.
State Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria, points to the door to the room where Democrats are drawing new legislative maps in Springfield earlier this month.
BlueRoomStream

The embattled Madigan surrendered his decades-long reign as speaker in January and his state House seat about a month later, but that didn’t stop the GOP from focusing its ire on him Friday, rather than his successor, House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

Illinois GOP chairman Don Tracy said Democrats were following “the Madigan playbook” in their remap effort.

“This new state legislative map drawn in secret by politicians has been engineered to maximize the power of the Madigan Machine. The politicians’ map degrades our democracy and fundamentally removes power from the people to fairly choose their representatives,” Tracy said.

Illinois Republican Chairman Don Tracy
Illinois Republican Chairman Don Tracy
Provided.

Those interested in the proposals can view them at redistricting websites for the state Senate and House. The General Assembly will hold additional hearings next week to hear from the public before legislators’ vote on the map.

Those hearings, which will allow the public to participate both in person and virtually to provide testimony, begin Tuesday at 4 p.m. with a joint meeting of the House and Senate, followed by a 6 p.m. hearing in the House.

The Illinois state constitution dictates state lawmakers must pass new legislative maps by June 30 of the year following the U.S. Census. If they fail to meet that deadline, an eight-person bipartisan panel is created to take over the task. When that panel inevitably deadlocks, a ninth member is randomly chosen by the Illinois secretary of state.

State Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie said in a statement that the maps have “so little detail that Senators can’t tell where the lines are and who they would now represent. It makes the claim of a ‘transparent process’ laughable.”

GOP gubernatorial candidate Darren Bailey put the blame squarely on the shoulders of his Democratic opponent.

“JB promised fair and independent maps and all we’ve received is partisan-map drawing behind locked doors,” the Republican state senator from downstate Xenia said

Fellow GOP gubernatorial candidate Gary Rabine also criticized Pritzker on the redistricting process in an interview with the Sun-Times Friday night.

“When Pritzker first ran he was talking about fair maps and that he wouldn’t be political and all that,” Rabine said.

“Of course it was political. So that’s, you know, I kind of expected that,” the suburban businessman said. “I didn’t expect him to do it all in a room that was closed off and secret.”

Rabine claimed to be “a little confused” how the Democrats could even draw the map without census data.

Rachel Hinton reported from Chicago, Andrew Sullender from Springfield.