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House dives into congressional redistricting with little public participation, renewed GOP criticism


Friday, October 8, 2021  |  Article  |  Joel Ebert

Redistricting (78)

The Illinois House kicked off the state’s congressional redistricting process Thursday, holding a short hearing that featured a brief overview of the state’s population shifts that will play a central role in creating new political boundaries as a single witness once again encouraged lawmakers to listen to the desires of community members. 


The less than 30-minute hearing held at the Bilandic building in Chicago was largely reflective of the legislative redistricting process that took place earlier this year, with little public participation and renewed Republican criticism.


Related: Low attendance plagues weekend redistricting hearings as advocates reiterate concerns


As the hearing began, Rep. Lisa Hernandez (D-Cicero), who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, read from prepared remarks as she noted the latest redistricting hearings come after lawmakers held nearly 60 public hearings in advance of approving the state legislative maps that Gov. JB Pritzker signed into law last month. Like those hearings, Hernandez said the congressional redistricting process will offer the public “at least” six more opportunities to offer input and recommend changes for the new congressional maps before lawmakers return to Springfield for the veto session, which begins Oct. 19. That’s when Democrats expect to vote on the new congressional maps. 


Hernandez also encouraged the public to submit their proposed congressional maps to the Democrats’ online portal.


“We look forward to hearing from you as we consider changes to the congressional map,” she said. 


Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield), who was a leading critic of Democrats’ state legislative redistricting process, renewed his criticism on Thursday.

“After months of asking about how we were going to handle the congressional mapping process, I guess we get it underway today,” he said during the hearing. “I don’t hold out any hope that things will change from what has happened earlier this year.”


Butler said “obviously” Democrats didn’t listen to much of the public testimony during the legislative redistricting process, noting the new maps are currently facing federal lawsuits. 


Regarding congressional maps, Butler said Illinois had a “terrible history of drawing grotesquely gerrymandered districts for political power.”


He said the current congressional map features a congressional district — the 13th District — that was drawn to elect a Democrat by linking together university towns throughout the state in a “diagonal manner” that has divided communities for “pure political gain.”


Butler said one of the “worst examples” of gerrymandering was the state’s congressional map from 2001, which he said was the result of a “deal” between U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) to draw a map that members of both parties thought was fair.


The 2001 map included the 17th District, represented by U.S. Rep. Lane Evans (D-Ill.), which Butler said was “one of the most gerrymandered districts ever drawn in the United States” for the purpose to “protect” Evans’ seat. 


Butler said although Democrats have yet to release a new congressional map this year, some candidates have announced bids for Congress. “I highly suspect a lot of people on the majority side of the aisle know exactly what the maps are going to be today,” he said. 


Butler said although there were strict deadlines to draw the legislative maps earlier this year, lawmakers did not have similar constraints for congressional redistricting, giving the state an opportunity to be a “model for the country.”


“Yet here we are two months after the data came out, finally getting around to having a hearing in a process that nobody really knows how it's going to work and is probably going to result in a hugely partisan map to try and protect the…thin House majority in Washington, D.C.,” he said. 


As lawmakers move forward with congressional redistricting, they will have to incorporate the state’s population loss of 18,000 residents in the last decade. 


While the state’s northeastern counties, including Cook, DuPage and Kendall counties, saw population increases, census data shows the vast majority of Illinois’ 102 counties lost population between 2010 and 2020.


Related: New census data highlights Illinois’ widespread county population declines 


Given the population losses, Illinois will lose one of its 18 current congressional seats. As a result, each of the state’s congressional districts will need to include 753,677 residents. 


Under the current congressional map, Cook County had 10 districts that are partially or entirely located within the county. With the population shifts in the county, the state’s 7th congressional district will need to reduce its population while the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th congressional districts will need to add population, House staffer Allie McNamara told the committee during a presentation. 


When the committee opened the hearing to witnesses, the only person to testify was Ryan Tolley, the policy advisory for CHANGE Illinois, who urged lawmakers to use the 2020 Census data to draw the congressional maps rather than American Community Survey (ACS) data that was used for the first version of the legislative maps. 


Tolley blamed the use of ACS data for the initial legislative maps for what he called the unprecedented move of pushing through two redistricting maps “within a matter of months.”


Related: Lawmakers approve ‘adjusted’ legislative redistricting maps


“When the maps were revisited, it created additional confusion and really alienated community voices from the process to a greater degree,” he said. 


Tolley also urged lawmakers to “pay attention” to the federal Voting Rights Act to ensure that communities of color are empowered in the new maps. He said under the state’s previous congressional maps, communities of color were “forced” to pursue legal challenges to “achieve the representation they deserve.” 


“Illinois’ first majority-Latino congressional district was created through a lawsuit,” Tolley said. 


Finally, Tolley said lawmakers should listen to community members and give them “a better opportunity to participate,” even after a new map proposal is released. Noting that advocacy groups were given less than a day to weigh in on earlier legislative map

proposals, he said there was “zero ability for community members to offer their insights if “votes are rushed again.”


Facing questions from Butler, Tolley, whose organization does not plan to submit its own congressional maps, said lawmakers should give the public at least two weeks to react to the maps before taking a vote. 


Thursday’s House hearing is the first of seven committee meetings that will take place before lawmakers return to Springfield on Oct. 19 for the veto session. The Senate Redistricting Committee has scheduled five hearings, which are set to begin Friday.