Democrats Unveil Plan for Illinois House Districts

May 20, 2011

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media)

Hoping to cement their control of the Illinois House, Democrats on Friday released a plan for new legislative districts that would shuffle Republicans into unfriendly territory while making the most of Democratic strongholds.

Under the Democratic proposal, many Republicans would be thrown together in new House districts and forced to decide whether to challenge a colleague or run elsewhere.

Some districts are drawn to be as Republican as possible, ceding those seats to the GOP but freeing up other territory that would be friendlier to Democratic candidates.

Other proposed districts would consolidate Democratic areas. The Springfield and Decatur areas, for instance, are now represented by Republicans but the new map would carve out the most Democratic parts of the region and link them, creating a district likely to turn blue.

The proposed House map may have placed at least two east central Illinois Republicans in the same district. Chapin Rose of Mahomet and Bill Mitchell of Forsyth currently live in what would be a new 101st district that would push west into Macon and McLean County. A large part of Rose's current district, including southern Champaign County, would be in the 102nd district, while further south, Mattoon and Charleston would be in a transformed 110th district.

The plan for House districts comes a day after Senate Democrats released a similar proposal for their seats. A plan for new congressional districts is coming soon.

Political boundaries have to be redrawn after each census to reflect population changes. The result shapes Illinois politics for a full decade.

Democrats control the Illinois Legislature, so they should be able to pass whatever they want without taking Republican concerns into account. Gov. Pat Quinn would be likely to sign any plan sent to him by his fellow Democrats.

When given the chance over the years, both parties have drawn legislative maps that helped their candidates and hurt the other side. Still, House Republicans said they hoped this year's bipartisan cooperation on the state budget would have carried over to redistricting.

Instead, they see the Democratic proposal as so unfair it could complicate resolution of the budget and other legislation.

"When they stick it to you, you can't just completely set that aside," said Rep. Sidney Mathias, R-Buffalo Grove.

Democrats released the proposal after the House had adjourned for the weekend. They provided no details on the racial or political composition of the new districts.

They plan a Sunday hearing where more detail may be available and critics can air their concerns.

House Republicans are calling the map's late release disingenuous. Democrats sent it out lat Friday afternoon. House Republican leader Tom Cross said Democrats should have released the map earlier so voters could digest it before a scheduled hearing this weekend. Cross said he wants more hearings before the General Assembly votes on the new map.

The legislature is set to adjourn May 31st.

Story source: AP