Ill. Senate Poised to Vote on Congressional Map

May 31, 2011

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

Proposed downstate Congressional districts see additional changes in the latest iteration of the Democratic drawn map.

State Senators are likely to vote Tuesday on the final version, which uses new Census data to redraw the lines to account for populations shifts.

The Democrat-controlled Illinois House approved a new congressional map Monday by a vote of 63-54. The proposed map attempts to erase Republican gains made in last year's election.

Illinois must adopt a congressional map with 18, instead of 19, U.S. House seats because the latest census showed slowing population growth in the state. Democrats are in charge of the once-a-decade redistricting process because they control the state Legislature and governor's office. That gives them the chance to put freshmen Republicans into unfriendly districts.

The proposed map lumps at least four freshman Republicans and one veteran into districts where they would have to run against other incumbents for the next election. They would be forced to compete in primaries, contend in Democrat-friendly districts or find another district to run in to try to keep a seat in Congress. The map includes two open districts where it appears no current member of Congress lives.

A pair of downstate Congressional districts see a shake up in this latest version of the Democrat-drawn boundaries.

Republican Congressmen Tim Johnson of Urbana and Collinsville's John Shimkus find their new districts swapped from what was unveiled last week. Shimkus' new territory would cover a large swath of Eastern and Southern Illinois and is considered to favor the GOP incumbent. Johnson's home would be included in a district that picks up Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and parts of Peoria, Bloomington and Springfield. Johnson's proposed district even dips down to the Metro East area near St. Louis. Johnson Spokesman Phil Bloomer couldn't immediately be reached for comment.

Shimkus spokesman Steven Tomaszewski says the Republican is declining comment until the new map is further defined.

When prompted about the changes to the map, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, a Chicago Democrat, offered no insight into the motives to tweak the map.

"I wasn't part of the decision in making those changes," Currie said, "It may be that we had comments from the public as these maps were on the website and available to the public as long ago as last Friday."

State Representative Jason Barickman heads the Champaign County Republican Party. Barickman criticizes the redistricting process, calling it flawed.

"There ought to be a thorough discussion of the map and the proposed boundaries and why certain districts are drawn the way they were," Barickman said. "Unfortunately, none of that discussion occurred."

Lawmakers are rushing to approve the congressional map before Tuesday's scheduled end of the legislative session. If lawmakers go into overtime, Republicans will get a say in the map because new rules kick in and more than a simple majority will be needed to pass it.

Democrats have worked hard not to stray from what sounds like a script when talking about their map, likely so as not to give Republicans ammunition for any future legal challenge of the map.

"A good map, a solid map and certainly an eminently fair map," Currie said.

Republican lawmakers disagreed.

Rep. Michael Fortner of West Chicago, the top Republican on the House redistricting committee, said census figures suggest that there should be more than one majority Latino congressional district among Illinois' 18 districts. Fortner said that based on voting-age population, Illinois should expect to have two or maybe three heavily Latino districts.

"There has been tremendous growth, in fact, I think it is fair to say that without the growth of the Latino population in Illinois we would have lost two congressional seats," Fortner said.

The number of people who identified themselves as Hispanic grew at a rate of 32.5 percent in the latest census.

The proposed congressional map has one district with a Latino voting-age population of nearly 66 percent. Two other districts have Latino voting-age populations of about 22 percent and another district has almost 25 percent.

The map has three majority black districts.

Democrats in the Senate have a large enough majority to pass the new map on to Governor Pat Quinn. Though, this is the last day to do so before Republican votes are needed.

Story source: AP