SPRINGFIELD — Today, Illinois residents will be given their first chance to voice their opinion about how the lines on Illinois’ political map will shift, though their voices might not carry as far as they hope.
The hearing, which will be held at noon Monday in Room C600 of the Bilandic Building in downtown Chicago, will be the first of five throughout the state. Hearings are meant to be opportunities for residents and interest groups to tell legislators any concerns or desires they have regarding redistricting.
Sen. Kwame Raoul is the chair of the redistricting committee and says he hopes people understand how much their input can influence the process.
“I think one of the things people have to realize about these hearings is they’ll all be hearings of record,” Raoul, D-Chicago, said. “So they’ll be providing information from different geographic areas that will be of value and that could be utilized by proponents and opponents of whatever end map is proposed.”
Republican Sen. Matt Murphy of Palatine also is on the redistricting committee. Looking forward to next week, Murphy said he hopes the hearings will bring what has typically been a backroom process out into the foyer.
Murphy and other Republicans, however, are wary of what the state’s new political geography will look like.
“There are significant ramifications for power in drawing the legislative map,” Murphy said. “And if history is any guide, ‘to the victor goes the spoils.’ I just hope we are starting to move past that, though, because I don’t think that is what the people want this process to be.”
Unfortunately for Murphy and other members of his party, that old adage is probably more relevant this year than any other in recent history.
For the first time since the current Constitution was adopted in 1970, one party — in the case the Democrats — controls the Senate, the House of Representatives and the governor’s office, making it possible to concoct a map without any input from the GOP.
“What we’re going to have this time is a quicker process, a quieter process,” Christopher Mooney, political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield. “It’s going to be behind closed doors more than normal, and there will be less in the media about it. There will be less of an extended process, and it’ll be very different."
Much of the real drama during the process will be infighting between Democrats, Mooney said. Parities want all the political power they can grab, which means creating as many districts that tilt in their favor as possible, he said.
The best way to accomplish that goal is to spread their voters thin enough to maintain a majority in several districts. For individual lawmakers, this way of creating a map means sometimes holding on to their political livelihoods by a thread.
Mooney said that every redistricting period is different, but the process can turn ugly, pitting lawmakers of the same party against one another. While Mooney hasn’t witnessed this firsthand, he said the stories he hears from those who have are generally the same.
“There’s a room where all the data and computers are and staffers are that are working on this. They bring in members, one, two at a time, three at a time and say ‘What do you want? This is what you’re going to get, this is what we’re going to do.’” Mooney said. “There’s gnashing of teeth, screaming and pulling of hair and crying.”
While Democrats might have some infighting, they also will have ultimate say over what the end product is to be.
Republican Sen. Kirk Dillard of Westmont, who also is on the redistricting committee, said he doesn’t have much faith that Democrats will take GOP input “seriously.” He said, however, that he does hope the majority party will listen to what the people have to say.
It’s a sentiment that is being voiced by everybody involved in redistricting, no matter their political creed.
“What we’re trying to do is bounce around a little bit and allow people from different geographic areas to have input so we’ll have our ears cleaned out, and we’ll be listening,” Raoul said.
Editor's Note: This story was originally published by Illinois Statehouse News and was written by Andrew Thomason.
Diane Lee contributed to this report.