Suburban Democrats draw Republican criticism over fair maps 'hypocrisy'
In 2019, seven suburban Democratic state senators signed on in support of a constitutional amendment that aimed to create an independent commission to draw new political maps in Illinois.
The amendment, which had bipartisan support, failed to reach voters in 2019, but now that a proposal mimicking much of the same language from the amendment has been introduced by Senate Republicans in the form of legislation, the same seven Democrats refuse to sign on.
The GOP bill, SB 1325, repeats much of the same language used in Democratic Sen. Julie Morrison's 2019 constitutional amendment that called for the formation of a 16-person independent commission to come up with new legislative districts across the state.
Six other suburban Democrats joined Morrison, who is from Deerfield, in support of the 2019 amendment: Laura Murphy of Des Plaines, Ann Gillespie of Arlington Heights, Melinda Bush of Grayslake, Laura Fine of Glenview, Laura Ellman of Naperville and Suzanne Glowiak-Hilton of Western Springs.
The suburban Democrats say the Republican bill is not the same. They call it "unconstitutional" because it goes against the mapmaking process laid out by the Illinois constitution. Democrats say the only way an independent commission can be formed is through a constitutional amendment, as they proposed. Republicans disagree.
"This is the type of hypocrisy that is happening down here right now," said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie of Hawthorn Woods.
The Illinois Constitution also sets a June 30 deadline for a new map to be drawn, with a process that leaves Democrats, the dominant party, in charge. Legislative boundaries drawn every 10 years can influence who's elected, how well a particular group is represented and where political power lies.
Democrats and Republicans are sparring over the process because the federal census data typically used to draw legislative maps will be delayed until at least Aug. 16 because of the pandemic.
Republicans have called on Democrats to wait until the data is released to draw a map. Democrats say the constitutional deadline must be met. That deadline is part of the reason Democrats say an independent commission cannot happen this year. Gillespie said it is "too late" to amend the Constitution and said the Republicans' proposal is "legally unsound."
If the June 30 deadline is missed, a bipartisan commission of eight members, four from each party, would be created and would have until Aug. 10 to draw a new map, the state Constitution says. If no new map is drawn by that commission, a ninth name is drawn from a replica of Abraham Lincoln's hat to serve as the final voice in the process.
In the Republican's proposal, the independent commission would work alongside the bipartisan commission allowed by the Constitution. The GOP argues that allows the independent commission to be created by statute or joint resolution from the House and Senate, rather than by referendum, which constitutional amendments require.
Murphy, in a 2016 candidate interview with the Daily Herald, said, "I also support independent maps, which would establish a nonpartisan, independent commission responsible for drawing state legislative districts in a way that is transparent and open to the public."
But this week in a statement issued via a spokesperson, Murphy dialed that back and said voters have to make the final call.
"Sen. Murphy continues to support letting voters decide whether to amend the Illinois Constitution to put in place an independent commission to draw maps," the statement read.
Gillespie followed Murphy's lead in a statement also issued by a spokesperson.
"To be clear, Sen. Gillespie supports allowing voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution to put in place an independent commission to draw maps."
Fine echoed that sentiment, saying in a statement: ""I support giving voters a say in whether an independent commission should be used to draw legislative maps."
Representatives for Morrison, Bush, Ellman and Glowiak-Hilton were reached for comment multiple times, yet no statements were provided.