GOP Sues Over New Congressional Map; Rep. Johnson Stays Out

July 27, 2011

(With additional reporting from Illinois Public Media and Illinois Public Radio)

Prominent Republicans say they are filing a federal lawsuit to block Illinois' new Democrat-drawn congressional map.

The lawsuit they are filing on Wednesday claims the new map is "outrageous partisan gerrymander" designed to eliminate five Republicans in next year's election.

The lawsuit also makes the case that Latino voting power is being diluted. The map, it claims, packs "an excessive super-majority of Latino voters" into Congressman Luis Gutierrez's district.

Filing the lawsuit is the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, which includes such prominent Republicans such as former U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert. Also named as plaintiffs are Illinois' five freshman Republicans who voters sent to Washington in the 2010 election.

In fact, 10 of Illinois' 11 Republican U.S. House members released a statement, saying "an impartial review of the facts in court will expose the serious deficits in this map and reverse the naked partisan power-grab contemplated by Democrats."

Urbana 15th District Republican Congressman Tim Johnson chose to stay out of the lawsuit. His spokesman, Phil Bloomer, said it is not because the Congressman doesn't support it.

"Congressman Johnson certainly believes that the redistricting process leading up to this map was unfair and a distortion of the people's issues," he said. "He's been in office and public service one way or another for over 40 years, and none of these challenges have ever succeeded. So he's decided to devote his energy and resources to his re-election campaign in the 13th District."

Johnson's new territory includes all or part of 33 counties in Southeast Illinois.

The lawsuit claims the map aims to erase Republican gains and dilute Latino voters. Democrats drew the map because they control the Illinois Legislature and the governor's office. Gov. Pat Quinn signed it into law last month. The new map gave Illinois 18 instead of 19 congressional districts because of the state's slowing population growth.

If the lawsuit fails, some members of the group may face each other on the ballot next year. One Republican who finds himself in a complicated political position is freshman Congressman Joe Walsh from the Northwest suburbs.

I know I'm running somewhere," Walsh said. "I don't know where. I live in what would be the new 14th. My district office is in what would be the new 10th. A big chunk of my district is in what would be the new 6th."

If Walsh does choose to run where he lives - the 14th - it's likely to set up a primary challenge with another freshman congressman, Randy Hultgren.

Yesterday, the heavy-weight conservative group Club for Growth announced that if the redistricting lawsuit fails, it will endorse Walsh in that race, saying he is distinguished himself as a "pro growth leader" during his short time in Congress.

Hultgren's staff didn't return requests for comment.

Last week the GOP's leaders in the Illinois legislature, state Rep. Tom Cross and state Sen. Christine Radogno, sued the state over the boundaries included in the map for state legislative districts.

Both lawsuits name as defendants the Illinois State Board of Elections, which will be represented in court by the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

Regarding both cases, Madigan spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler emailed, "We plan to vigorously defend the state.

Story source: AP