Eye On Illinois: Republicans fairly holding Pritzker to his mapping promises

When calling out the governor, let his words do the talking.

Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, and Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, deployed that strategy in a letter they sent Monday calling out Gov. JB Pritzker for his past pledges on the legislative mapping process.

Barickman and Butler are spokesmen on the Senate and House redistricting committees. They addressed the letter to their counterparts, Sen. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, and Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, who are in charge of each committee. But the target clearly was Pritzker.

“To date, not a single House or Senate hearing has included testimony from the governor or anyone representing his office,” Barickman and Butler wrote Monday, asking either Pritzker “or a high-level member of his office” to testify April 19 at the only scheduled joint meeting on the topic.

The men noted that on the campaign trail in March 2018, Pritzker said he “would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map.”

Though Pritzker took office in January 2019, the issue didn’t begin to regain momentum until January 2020, when the Census loomed and redistricting again rose in prominence among political discourse.

The letter quoted Pritzker, on Jan. 30, 2020, saying “we should have compact, contiguous districts as best we can. … I am going to veto any unfair map that gets presented to me.”

Barickman and Butler also used language from this January, saying someone in Pritzker’s camp reiterated he “has been clear he will veto a partisan map.”

The time for an independent commission was 2019, when Pritzker had lots of political capital, a safe distance from his own re-election and a chance to burnish his progressive credentials and perhaps lend some influence to colleagues in other states where Republicans have long dictated mapping rules.

The concept of a “partisan map” is unavoidably subjective, as evidenced by scores of legal opinions from across the country. But by publicly endorsing “compact, contiguous districts” last year, Pritzker tipped his hand. You don’t need block-level Census data to see the sketchiness in Rockford being split among the 16th and 17th Congressional districts, or parts of Peoria curled into the 17th like a peninsula inside the 18th.

There are similar designs around Springfield and Bloomington-Normal, or in northern Lake County where the 14th curls down from the Wisconsin border into the 10th. “Jeopardy!” used Illinois’ Fourth in June 2011 in search of the response “What is gerrymandering?”

Pritzker has clear obligations here, and they’re self imposed. Barickman and Butler are just two of many Republicans all too ready to score these points, which is completely fair and good strategy to boot.

Will Pritzker’s team talk Monday? Silence would speak volumes.

• Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Local News Network. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.