Democrats Propose A Map That Could Set Southern Illinois Republicans Against Each Other
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
Two GOP state representatives and two senators from southern Illinois could be forced to run against each other in the spring 2022 primary if Democrats approve redrawn districts proposed late last week.
Democrats put Republican state Rep. David Friess of Red Bud into a district with Rep. Charlie Meier of Okawville, and drew together GOP Sens. Jason Plummer of Edwardsville and Darren Bailey of Xenia. Redistricting happens every 10 years after the U.S. Census count and is supposed to realign districts with population shifts.
Republicans said the maps were blatantly gerrymandered to empower Democrats and called on them to release the data they used. So far, Democrats have yet to produce it.
“Rebuffing all calls of transparency, they are taking whatever actions necessary to ensure that politicians can draw their own maps and pick their own voters instead of letting voters pick their politicians,” said Whitney Barnes, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Senate Republican Caucus.
Friess said he talked with Meier, first elected to represent the 108th District in 2012, after the proposed maps were released. Friess recognizes they could be forced to campaign against one another.
“When you have a partisan process, which is what we have here, that’s going to happen,” said Friess, a freshman representative who ousted Nathan Reitz, D-Steeleville, in the 116th District last November.
Plummer said his district doesn’t belong to him, but to voters. If he gets a chance to serve them again, he said, he’d be honored. Bailey, the senator he could possibly face in a primary, is running for governor.
“I know certain legislators, especially on the other side of the aisle, really sweat over these things,” Plummer said. “I don’t. I’m fortunate to have been chosen to represent the people.”
It’s still too soon to start planning campaigns, however.
The maps aren’t yet final and could change after this week, possibly recasting southern Illinois Republican districts again. Lawmakers scheduled four hearings: 4 p.m. Tuesday (joint House and Senate), 6 p.m. Tuesday (House), 4 p.m. Wednesday (joint House and Senate) and 6 p.m. Wednesday (Senate).
State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said she expects Democrats to propose a different map. The first draft is rarely the final one, she added, but she remains skeptical about transparency surrounding how the maps are drawn.
“We’re all a little bit cynical up here when you’re in the super-minority,” Bryant said.
Where’s the data?
Those in charge of drawing the maps said they are fair, but Republicans demanded to see the information Democrats used.
“Redistricting is about making sure all voices are heard, and that’s exactly what this map accomplishes,” said Chicago Democrat Sen. Omar Aquino, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, in a news release. Lawmakers held dozens of hearings this spring.
But Democrats have yet to release the population data they used to draw the maps, Friess said.
Complete U.S. Census Bureau data from the 2020 count won’t be available until August at the earliest because of delays caused by COVID-19. Instead, Illinois lawmakers used less detailed information from the bureau’s 2019 American Community Survey estimates, but did not release their data along with the proposed maps.
“The problem is right now we have no idea whether or not the population supports the redrawing of districts as the map indicates,” Friess said.
Democrats will make the data available, Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, said a day before the proposed maps were released, Capitol News Illinois reported.
Republicans also said Democrats haven’t been transparent, an assertion they say was proved further when redistricting committees decided to release their proposals after 7:30 p.m. on a Friday.
If Democrats pass the maps in a vote, they would go to Gov. J.B. Pritzker for signing. If he approves, the new lines are sure to meet legal challenges.
The GOP says the governor has backtracked from his 2018 campaign promises to veto an ”unfair” map.
“J.B. Pritzker should keep his promise and veto this partisan-drawn, Democratic-leaning map that was drawn by the politicians for the politicians,” Meier said in an email.
Republicans pushed to create an independent redistricting commission this year to no avail. The idea was popular with Democrats too last year before the pandemic brought legislative activity to a standstill and the effort died.
The Illinois constitution requires lawmakers to approve maps by June 30, but Democrats have set their own deadline of May 31, corresponding with the end of session. If they don’t finish by then, Democrats could lose the almost complete control they have over the process because it would go to a bipartisan commission.
The public may sign up to provide testimony for this week’s hearings in-person or virtually by submitting an electronic witness slip at www.ilga.gov.
Kelsey Landis is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.