Amid cries of gerrymandering and partisanship from suburban Republicans, Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn Friday quietly signed into law a political map that sets congressional boundaries for the next 10 years.
That blueprint -- stretching and skewing suburban boundaries lines to protect Democrats' traditional Chicago base -- could reduce Republican representation by as many as five seats, political experts say.
This comes even as the state loses a congressional seat due to slow population growth.
A Republican court challenge appears certain, yet the Illinois GOP and the Batavia-based group who will likely file such a suit were keeping mum on just when that might drop.
"Now that it's signed, that process will begin more aggressively," Illinois GOP spokesman Jon Blessing said.
However, he noted, "we won't expect it to be from the Illinois Republican Party."
Instead, the Committee for a Fair and Balanced Map, which includes former House Speaker Dennis Hastert, of Plano, and is chaired by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Lynn Martin, of Evanston, will likely be the filers, Blessing said.
In a letter to Quinn earlier this month, the committee outlined a list of concerns of the proposed boundaries, noting that "Collar County communities of interest will be split among numerous congressional districts," and that despite a doubling of the state's Hispanic population over the past 20 years, the proposal provides for only one majority-Hispanic congressional district.
Members of the committee, including Hastert, have not returned calls for comment in recent weeks.
"I don't know that we've been intentionally silent I just think there's been a lot of groundwork that needed to be done and that was being done," committee spokesman Jim Kimberly said. "That work is still ongoing."
Quinn's signature comes three weeks after lawmakers approved new congressional and General Assembly maps in the final days of session. Quinn approved the General Assembly map earlier this month.
In a statement, Quinn called the Congressional map "fair," and said it "maintains competitiveness within congressional districts, and protects the voting rights of minority communities."
As it stands right now, Republicans hold all but one of the congressional seats in the Northwest suburbs. The new plan makes that ratio more difficult come 2012 and beyond.
It puts Rep. Randy Hultgren, a Winfield Republican who defeated first-term Democrat Bill Foster in November, and fellow freshman Republican Joe Walsh of McHenry in the same district. Republican Rep. Robert Dold of Kenilworth's home is now in the same district with Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat.
Hultgren's current district -- also Hastert's seat for two decades -- would now be split in two at the Kane and McHenry County border.
Republican Rep. Judy Biggert of Hinsdale would see her district carved up in six different ways and her residence brought into the same district as that of Chicago Democrat Mike Quigley. The new map also creates two new open districts filled with independent and Democratic-leaning voters.
While suburban members of Congress have declined to comment individually, the 10 members of Illinois' Republican delegation issued a collective statement, decrying Quinn for "rewarding Democratic allies" by "approving this highly partisan map."
With Democrats in control of the Illinois House, Senate and governor's office, this was the first time in decades that one party was in virtual control of the entire process.
Democratic state Sen. Michael Noland, vice chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, noted Friday that it was voters who put mapmaking decisions in the hands of Democrats.
"We expect the Republicans to complain, but the fact remains that Democrats were elected to create the map," he said.
Noland said he believes the new map will pass "constitutional muster."
Despite that, he said, "this is what happens when you have partisanship really holding sway over the process. I look forward to the day where it's much more impartial. ... We need people in competitive (districts), to be concerned about their jobs and be responsive to the electorate. I'm hopeful of that in the next redistricting cycle 10 years from now."