SPRINGFIELD — Across the street from the Illinois State Capitol in the backroom of a government office building, Democrats are huddled behind closed doors drawing the legislative maps that will be used over the next ten years.
At his first news conference as his chamber’s top leader in January, state House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch called for a “new day” following the decades-long reign of former Speaker Michael Madigan, saying the redistricting process would be “as transparent as possible.”
But less than four months later, Welch is using the same backroom Madigan used ten years ago to draw the maps in secret.
Standing outside the Democratic map room on Thursday, House Republicans blasted the majority for a redistricting process the GOP dubbed “the literal opposite of transparent.”
“Politicians should not be allowed to select their own voters,” said state Rep. Ryan Spain, R-Peoria. “This is the room where Democratic politicians come in and out, selecting the very voters that they will choose to represent instead of empowering voters so that they can choose their own elected officials.”
Welch spokesperson Jaclyn Driscoll said in a statement the redistricting process “is and will remain a transparent process.”
“Soon, we will file the map and the public will be given a chance to weigh in,” Driscoll said. “We strongly encourage participation from everyone.”
But state Rep. Tim Butler, who heads the Republican opposition on the redistricting committee, said he was barred from seeing any of the information Democrats were using to draw maps behind closed doors and that “the public’s not allowed” in the room, either.
“I asked the chair of the House redistricting committee … if she had anything for me. And she said no. So, we have asked to be involved, we want to be involved. But the Democrats won’t let us,” the Springfield Republican said.
That Democratic chair, state Rep. Lisa Hernandez, called the redistricting process “amazing” at a separate news conference Thursday. She noted that the House has held 30 public redistricting hearings, which was 13 more than were held when the maps were last redrawn a decade ago.
“We are just following the process like we always do. [Republicans] are doing the same,” said the Cicero Democrat. “It matters to hear from your legislators who are representing those districts to hear what input that they have. We heard from the public, and now it’s into the stage of getting input from legislators. It’s nothing new, there’s no secret.”
House Republicans invited the press into their map-making room, Butler saying anyone was “more than welcome” to see their process.
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.