During his 2018 campaign for governor, Democrat J.B. Pritzker pledged to veto any state legislative redistricting plan drawn by politicians.
This month he went back on that promise, signing into law district maps created without Republican input by Democratic lawmakers who hold supermajorities in the state legislature.
The plan he approved creates new boundaries for the districts that legislative candidates will compete in over the next decade, and sets up at least seven primary contests between state House Republican incumbents next year. Pritzker also approved new, Democrat-drawn boundaries for Illinois Supreme Court districts, which were last redrawn more than half a century ago. Boundaries for Illinois seats in the U.S. Congress have not yet been drawn.
A day before approving the new maps, Pritzker was asked in an interview with WTTW to address GOP critics calling on him to prove he wasn’t lying to voters during his campaign by rejecting the Democrats’ maps.
“What I really want is a constitutional amendment for an independent commission to draw the maps. That is what the legislature should have done, didn’t do,” Pritzker said. “There are people who wanted to have legislation passed for an independent commission. It’s unclear to me whether that’s constitutional or not, but that could have been a way to do it. Then, Republicans and Democrats working together in a bipartisan fashion would have been another way to get a fair map.
“I’ll remind you that the Republicans don’t seem to want to do any of those things,” he continued. “They have argued that they want an independent commission, but they didn’t do anything about it.”
As WTTW reporter Amanda Vinicky told Pritzker, however, GOP lawmakers filed legislation to create an independent commission this session. Pritzker did not respond to that point during the segment, so we decided to find out what the governor was talking about when he said the state’s minority party “didn’t do anything” to get independent maps.
GOP legislation raises constitutional questions, but shows Republicans did act
Over the years, citizen initiatives and lawmakers from both parties have offered plans aimed at thwarting the practice of partisan gerrymandering, where the dominant political party manipulates boundaries to benefit their candidates and, sometimes, incumbents in general.
Republican lawmakers in the General Assembly filed two proposals to create an independent redistricting commission without amending the constitution this year. One of the bills they put forth was backed by GOP leaders in both chambers, but neither measure received Democrat support.
While that legislation sat idle in a Democrat-controlled committee this session, the bill’s GOP proponents worked to draw attention to the measure at news conferences, framing their plan as an alternative to the map Democrat lawmakers reviewed behind closed doors this spring in the same room where party leaders met a decade ago to create the current map.
It’s all “power politics,” according to Chris Mooney, a state politics expert at the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government & Public Affairs. The Democrat majority, he said, knows the general public “is not really exercised about this whole business and they are betting the Republicans can’t make them exercised about it.”
“They [Republicans] did something, I think that’s pretty clear,” Mooney said. “Whether it amounted to a hill of beans, that’s another question.”
So we reached out to Pritzker’s office to ask why the governor said the GOP “didn’t do anything” to try to create an independent commission.
In response, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh told us the GOP legislation conflicts with the state constitution, which lays out a specific process for redistricting. Whether or not the GOP legislation would prevail in court remains open for debate.
The Illinois Constitution tasks the General Assembly with drawing new legislative districts in the year following each federal decennial census. Failure to pass a plan and get it signed into law by June 30 triggers a process involving a bipartisan commission that ultimately gives both parties a 50-50 chance at selecting the state’s next map, an outcome Democrats have sought to avoid.
Lawmakers and the governor could pass a law creating a new commission without amending the constitution if that panel was solely advisory, according to Ann Lousin, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Illinois-Chicago John Marshall Law School.
The GOP plan does not explicitly describe the bipartisan commission of 16 court-appointed members it proposes as advisory, though it does state that panel would hand off its map to the lawmaker-appointed legislative redistricting commission already empowered by the constitution to take over the process if a lawmaker-drawn map is not approved by June 30.
Constitutional hypotheticals aside, however, Pritzker cited creating an independent commission through the legislative process as one of the options Republicans could have tried in his remarks to WTTW. We asked Abudayyeh to address this, but did not hear back.
Pritzker said Republican lawmakers “have argued that they want an independent commission, but they didn’t do anything about it.”
Republicans filed and promoted legislation this session aimed at creating an independent redistricting commission, and in his remarks to WTTW Pritzker cited creating an independent panel via legislation as one of the ways lawmakers could have tried for an independent map.
Whether or not the GOP plan would have held up in court, it’s clear Republican lawmakers made at least some effort to create a redistricting commission not controlled by the legislature.
We rate Pritzker’s claim Mostly False.
MOSTLY FALSE – The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression.
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