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Pritzker backtracks, but GOP not changing tone on redistricting

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker broke his silence on redistricting Tuesday and reiterated his desire to see a fair map, but distanced himself from past comments in support of the creation of an independent redistricting commission which Republicans are currently pushing for.

"As I've said, I will veto an unfair map," Pritzker said at a Tuesday press conference. "I've also said that in order for us to have an independent commission, we'd need to have a constitutional amendment to actually change the way the process works in the constitution. That did not happen, so now as we reach the end of this session I look to the legislature for their proposal for a redistricting map."

Over the last month and a half, Republicans have been pushing Democrats and Pritzker to support an independent redistricting commission. As a candidate for governor, Pritzker said lawmakers needed to create the commission, either through a constitutional amendment or legislative statute, like Republicans are trying to do now.

"We should amend the constitution to create an independent commission to draw legislative maps, but in the meantime, I would urge Democrats and Republicans to agree to an independent commission to handle creating a new legislative map," Pritzker said in 2018.

Republicans had hoped Pritzker's support could mobilize Democrats to support taking redistricting away from lawmakers.

"As the governor, he has the ability to lead and authority to act, but unfortunately, right now he is simply running away into the darkness of partisan politics," said Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods.

Pritzker accused Republicans of being partisan.

"I hope the Republicans will choose to work with Democrats on the map. Right now it looks like they're just saying no; they're not really engaging," Pritzker said.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, asked Pritzker to appear at a House and Senate redistricting committee in East St. Louis last week so lawmakers could hear what Pritzker's stance on redistricting was. His request went unanswered.

"He has an opportunity to uphold his promise and importantly he is the person who can make this happen," Barickman said, adding Pritzker has "no reason to flip flop" on his campaign promise because independent redistricting is popular among voters in Illinois and Democrats at the national level.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said "the governor seems to suffer from retrograde amnesia," while Illinois GOP chairman Don Tracy said "a man is nothing without his word."

University of Illinois at Chicago political science professor Christopher Mooney said there may not be any real consequences for Pritzker back tracking on his campaign statements. He notes the people who care about redistricting the most are the legislators who want to protect their jobs — not the voters or governor.

"The fault is not JB not reforming it. It's him saying he could get it done. That's naïve on his part (because he was not) involved in politics before," Mooney said.

State Sen. Terri Bryant, R-Murphysboro, said Pritzker going back on his campaign promises underscores why Illinois voters have little faith in their elected leaders, which was exemplified by the failure of the progressive income tax amendment to pass last November.

Democrats have argued it would be unconstitutional for lawmakers to create an independent commission without changing the constitution, even as Pritzker has previously advocated for lawmakers to create a commission through legislation. State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, said lawmakers have to pass a map by June 30 and missing that deadline or changing the process would be "abdicate our responsibility."

"The constitution only gives the dates and the fall back situation. They could do whatever they want up until June 30," Mooney said, affirming Republicans do have the legal right to create an independent commission now without amending the constitution.

Republicans argue the real deadline for passing maps is Oct. 5. The constitution says lawmakers "shall" handle the redistricting process, but does not mandate maps are complete by June 30 and creates a process for lawmakers to handle redistricting after June 30 in order to meet the final date maps would need to be approved, which is Oct. 5.

"There is plenty of time for the governor to make good on his campaign promise and insist on an independent redistricting commission," McConchie said.

However, Mooney said the time for lawmakers to reform the process is not while working on redistricting.

"You can't reform a process in the middle of a process," he said.

Pritzker said he will still veto an unfair map. However, it's not clear what his definition of unfair is. Republicans have previously said a fair map does not cut through communities and will respect existing political boundaries.

"There is no gold standard on this. When anyone mentions fair maps, your next question needs to be what do you mean by fair maps? Because fair doesn't mean anything," Mooney said.

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