Several of Illinois' Republican members of Congress came to Chicago to testify today on the first day of their legal challenge to a new Democratic-drawn congressional map.
Rep. John Shimkus was the first of four Republican incumbent congressmen to testify in what is scheduled to be a two-day trial. The three-judge panel in U.S. District Court will rule on GOP claims that the new map unfairly represents a growing Latino population and unlawfully gerrymanders Republicans to benefit Democrats.
Lawyers for the state said in opening statements that the new map does not violate the federal Constitution and voting rights’ act guarantees for minorities.
Shimkus testified that U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, a 23-year Democratic congressman from a neighboring southern Illinois district, came to him in early spring of this year to attempt to negotiate a bipartisan congressional map. The two later met one-on-one in Shimkus’ hometown of Collinsville, where Costello, of nearby Belleville, presented rough maps to the Republican.
Shimkus said subsequent attempts to get more detailed information about the boundary lines failed and no further negotiations ensued. “You can’t negotiate when you don’t know the lines,” Shimkus said.
Asked about his relationship with Costello, who had been the state’s longest-serving congressman, Shimkus choked up with emotion and said, “He’s retiring. He’s a close friend and confidante. I’m proud to call him my friend.” Costello announced last month he would be stepping down from Congress.
Asked about the map’s effects on his political career, Shimkus testified that the new Democrat map was "egregious” and “terrible” and would split his hometown of 22,000 people into three congressional districts after he and Costello had represented Collinsville jointly for the past 20 years.
“Three members of Congress for a population of 22,000 people is criminal,” Shimkus said, before echoing complaints raised in the lawsuit filed by most members of the GOP congressional delegation that contend the new map would reverse Republican 2010 mid-term gains in Congress and that it unlawfully packed Latino’s into one district while disenfranchising those in neighboring districts.
Republicans gained an 11-8 advantage in last year’s election, reversing a Democratic majority. Illinois loses one seat for the next decade because its population did not grow as fast as other states. Redrawing map boundaries are required following the every-decade federal Census.
Since Democrats control the General Assembly and the governor’s office, no Republican input was used on the map, which pits several GOP incumbents against each other or in unfamiliar, Democratic-leaning territory. Shimkus is in one of the few Republican districts considered safe.
Shimkus said he was “trying to negotiate in good faith” with Costello on a bipartisan map and did not attend legislative hearings held before a new map was drawn. But Republicans have contended the map-making process was taken over by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and have cited documents involving DCCC officials discussing how to maximize gains at the expense of Republicans.
During questioning by attorneys for the state, Shimkus at times tried to hold his contempt for the new map in check.
“Is there something funny congressman?” attorney Devon Bruce asked Shimkus as he smiled under questioning aimed at defending the map. “There’s something very funny,” the Republican replied.
Also scheduled to testify were Republican Reps. Peter Roskam of Wheaton, Judy Biggert of Hinsdale and Donald Manzullo of Egan in northwestern Illinois. Biggert’s current district was moved into parts of several other districts and her suburban home was moved into a district with North Side Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley of Chicago.
The federal court panel is considering extending the filing deadline for congressional races from the current Nov. 28-Dec. 5 period to January, in line with the petitioning of national presidential nominating delegates.
Asked by one judge when the Illinois primary was scheduled, Shimkus responded, "March 15th, I think."
It's March 20.