SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (NEXSTAR) — When he was running for office in March of 2018, primary candidate J.B. Pritzker pledged if he won the race for governor, he would veto a redistricting map “that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies.”
In 2021, heading towards a potential bid for re-election, Pritzker signaled support for top Democrats in the legislature who are forging ahead to pass political maps drawn with incomplete or partial data from the American Census Survey data, instead of the full data from the U.S. Census, which is delayed due to the pandemic.
“It’s not Illinois’ fault that the Census Bureau isn’t prepared,” Pritzker said at the Illinois State Fairgrounds last month. “It was the previous administration and Covid that both played into this problem. We have deadlines to meet and so there’s great data out there to be used. I know the legislature is looking at that data now.”
In a Monday morning press conference, Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Ill. 13th District) pointed to Pritzker’s 2018 campaign pledge and called on him to keep his word now that he’s in office.
“Many of our colleagues, including Governor Pritzker, have said in their own words that they would like an open and transparent process, one that’s going to stop politicians from picking their own voters,” Davis said.
House Republicans Tim Butler (R-Springfield) and Avery Bourne (R-Morrisonville) chimed in, calling on Pritzker to publicly declare his intent to veto any map drawn by Democrats.
“It’s time for the governor to lead,” Butler said. “It’s time for him to tell the Speaker and the Senate President that he will have nothing to do with a partisanly drawn map.”
“He needs to come out and say that now so that the legislature knows that this is a fool’s errand to keep going with this redistricting process in a partisan way,” Bourne said.
Pritzker’s office responded with a statement that made no mention of his 2018 pledge, and did not respond directly to questions about whether his position had changed.
“As the Governor has said, he believes legislative maps should reflect Illinois’ gender, racial, and geographic diversity, along with preserving the Voting Rights Act decisions that help ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process,” spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh said in an email.
Republicans held a press conference at the statehouse on Monday to warn that using partial data could harm communities of color or might overlook voters who live in sparsely populated corners of the state.
“The use of ACS data is flawed,” Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said on Monday. “It does not give a true representation and actually undercounts. We’ve had people testify on the record that ACS data undercounts minority populations and rural communities, communities under 65,000.”
Butler, who said last month that Davis “would be excellent as governor,” suggested Democrats could try to draw up a map to squeeze Davis out of his seat in Congress.
Davis, a fifth-term Congressman from Taylorville, said it was his “first choice” to run for re-election to his seat in Congress in 2022, appearing to leave open the option to run for another office if the new maps carve enough GOP voters out of his district.
“Do you think a Republican will ever win a statewide seat in Illinois again,” Davis asked rhetorically. “I know I think so.”
“We’ve got fewer Republican congressmen than we had a decade ago and two decades ago,” Butler said, “and that’s all because of the fact that they use political data to slice and dice these districts for political gain.”
While Butler cautioned against using political voting history data to draw a map, he criticized the current maps for diluting the voices and collective voting power of Hispanic populations in the state.
“The Latino population in Illinois is actually higher than African American population, but that’s not represented in the Illinois General Assembly,” Butler said. “It’s not.”
Hispanic voters make up more than 11% of the state’s voting age population, according to an independent analysis of Illinois’ district maps and demographics. However, Latino elected officials make up just seven percent of the state legislature, and just one of Illinois’ 18 members of Congress.
Should the next map produce more Latino representation in elected office?
“Yes, of course,” Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez (D-Cicero) answered. “The numbers are there.”
“They want to hear that their voice is heard, what matters to them,” she said. “So those who get elected get elected based on those who believe in that they are representing their voice.”
“Should we draw another Hispanic congressional district? Absolutely,” Davis said. “That’s something that these mapmakers ought to take into consideration.”
Senators Omar Aquino and Elgie Sims, Chicago Democrats who serve as chair and vice-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, responded to the Republican press conference in a joint statement.
“As Republicans nationwide seek to silence Black and Brown communities, Democrats in Illinois remain committed to the creation of a fair map that reflects the great diversity of our state,” Aquino and Sims said through an outside communications firm.
“We have invited communities of interest across Illinois to participate in this process, including establishing an online portal that allows anyone to draw and submit their own proposed maps. Meanwhile, Republicans are presenting the public with a false choice by promoting legislation that is legally unsound. They know a bill cannot supersede the Illinois Constitution, which requires the General Assembly to undertake the redistricting process every ten years. Democrats are focused on inclusion, not legally questionable distractions.”
The General Assembly could have passed a constitutional amendment and put the question to voters last year, but opted against going that route. As Pritzker suggested in 2018, the legislative leaders could also adopt a map drawn by an independent commission, and send that map to his desk for approval. Alternatively, Pritzker could still use his veto power to strike down any map drawn by politicians, though he has not renewed that threat in public since taking office.