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Landen Swiney of Du Quoin passes Zach McKowen of Christ Our Rock Lutheran in the final stretch of the 3200 meter run during the IHSA Class 1A Sectional at the Van Metre Field on Wednesday in Du Quoin.


GOP leaders sue over new district maps
  • Updated

SPRINGFIELD — Republican leaders in the Illinois House and Senate filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of the new legislative district maps that Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed into law June 4.

Senate Minority Leader Dan McConchie, of Hawthorn Woods, and House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Chicago, arguing that the maps are based on survey data rather than official U.S. Census numbers and therefore violate the U.S. Constitution’s “one person, one vote” requirement.

“Today’s filing should come as no surprise to Illinoisans,” Durkin said in a news release. “The partisan process upon which the legislative maps were drawn flies in the face of strong recommendations made by countless advocacy groups and citizens who testified at the redistricting hearings.”

Durkin was referring to groups who urged lawmakers to wait for the release of official data from the 2020 census, which is due for release in mid-August. That, however, would have pushed lawmakers beyond the Illinois Constitution’s deadline of June 30 for the General Assembly to adopt maps before the process is turned over to a bipartisan commission.

So instead, House and Senate Democrats based the new maps on population estimates derived from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, which Republicans and a number of voting rights advocacy groups, including the League of Women Voters of Illinois and Illinois Common Cause, argued is not accurate enough to be used for redistricting.

Democratic leaders also said they used data from previous elections to determine the partisan tilt of each district.

Throughout the process, Republicans pushed unsuccessfully for the appointment of an independent redistricting commission that would have been fashioned along the lines of one that was proposed in a 2016 constitutional amendment, but which the Illinois Supreme Court removed from the ballot that year under a legal technicality.

“Today we are entering court on behalf of the thousands of families, small business owners, workers, and taxpayers who said they wanted an independently drawn map, not the one handed down by political insiders desperately clinging to power,” McConchie said in the news release. “We believe this is our best option to advocate for the 75 percent of voters who were refused an independent process and a map created with accurate data.”

During the spring legislative session, House and Senate redistricting committees held a series of more than 50 public hearings focusing on different areas of the state. Most of those hearings, however, were either virtual meetings or hybrid meetings with in-person and virtual participation.

The House and Senate approved new maps on Friday, May 26, less than 24 hours after the final drafts had been introduced. Pritzker signed them into law a week later, on June 4.

The lawsuit alleges that the maps violate the equal protection clause of the 14th amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which federal courts have frequently cited as the basis for requiring state legislative districts to be drawn so they are substantially equal in population.

That has generally meant that districts cannot vary in population by more than 10 percent between the largest and smallest districts, but variations of less than 10 percent have also been found unconstitutional if the lines are drawn in an arbitrary or discriminatory manner.

McConchie and Durkin argue in their lawsuit that the use of survey data to craft the new maps resulted in districts that are both arbitrary in how they were drawn and discriminatory because the surveys that were used tend to undercount certain subgroups of the population.

They are asking the court to declare that the new maps violate the U.S. Constitution and for an injunction to prevent state officials from implementing the new maps.

In addition, they are asking that if valid maps are not adopted before the Illinois Constitution’s June 30 deadline, that the court either order the appointment of a bipartisan commission, as provided for in the Illinois Constitution, or appoint a special master to oversee the drafting of valid maps based on official 2020 census data.

The suit names House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, of Hillside, Senate President Don Harmon, of Oak Park, and the Illinois State Board of Elections, along with its individual members, as defendants.

Sens. Omar Aquino, D-Chicago, who is chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, and Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, who is vice chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, issued a joint written statement Wednesday afternoon stating they “stand by” their maps.

“It is disappointing but not surprising Republicans would seek to strike down these new maps, which reflect the great racial and geographic diversity of our state. Throughout this process, they have done nothing but delay and obstruct efforts to ensure our communities are fairly represented, as seen by their refusal to even draft their own proposals,” the statement reads.

Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, D-Cicero, who chairs the House Redistricting Committee, also issued a statement accusing Republicans of trying to block the new maps for their own political gain.

"Republicans in the House have done nothing but attempt to obstruct this citizen-driven process,” she said. “They've staged charades for the media while spending well over $500,000 of taxpayer money out of their redistricting budget, but couldn't even bother to submit their own proposals to be considered." 

As of Wednesday afternoon, the case had not yet been assigned to a federal judge.


National
AP
Sponsor ends Keystone XL pipeline
  • Updated

BILLINGS, Mont. — The sponsor of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline pulled the plug on the contentious project Wednesday after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with government agencies "to ensure a safe termination of and exit" from the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year when former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project after it had stalled under the Obama administration. It would have moved up to 35 million gallons of crude daily, connecting in Nebraska to other pipelines that feed oil refineries on the U.S. Gulf Coast.

Biden canceled the pipeline's border crossing permit in January over longstanding concerns that burning oil sands crude could make climate change worse and harder to reverse.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had objected to the move, raising tensions between the U.S. and Canada. Officials in Alberta, where the line originated, expressed frustration in recent weeks that Trudeau wasn't pushing Biden harder to reinstate the pipeline's permit.

Alberta invested more than $1 billion in the project last year, kick-starting construction that had stalled amid determined opposition to the line from environmentalists and Native American tribes along its route.

Alberta officials said Wednesday they reached an agreement with TC Energy, formerly known as TransCanada, to exit that partnership. The company and province plan to try to recoup the government's investment, although neither offered any immediate details on how that would happen.

"We remain disappointed and frustrated with the circumstances surrounding the Keystone XL project, including the cancellation of the presidential permit for the pipeline's border crossing," Alberta Premier Jason Kenney said in a statement.

The province had hoped the pipeline would spur increased development in the oil sands and bring tens of billions of dollars in royalties over decades.

Climate change activists viewed the expansion of oil sands development as an environmental disaster that could speed up global warming as the fuel is burned. That turned Keystone into a flashpoint in the climate debate, and it became the focus of rallies and protests in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Environmentalists who had fought the project since it was first announced in 2008 said its cancellation marks a "landmark moment" in the effort to curb the use of fossil fuels.

"Good riddance to Keystone XL," said Jared Margolis with the Center for Biological Diversity, one of many environmental groups that sued to stop it.

On Montana's Fort Belknap Reservation, tribal president Andy Werk Jr. described the end of Keystone as a relief to Native Americans who stood against it out of concerns that a line break could foul the Missouri River or other waterways.

Attorneys general from 21 states had sued to overturn Biden's cancellation of the pipeline, which would have created thousands of construction jobs. Republicans in Congress have made the cancellation a frequent talking point in their criticism of the administration, and even some moderate Senate Democrats including Montana's Jon Tester and West Virginia's Joe Manchin had urged Biden to reconsider.

Tester said in a statement Wednesday that he was disappointed in the project's demise, but made no mention of Biden.

Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, the top Republican on the Senate energy committee, was more direct: "President Biden killed the Keystone XL Pipeline and with it, thousands of good-paying American jobs."

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on TC Energy's announcement. In his Jan. 20 cancellation order, Biden said allowing the line to proceed "would not be consistent with my administration's economic and climate imperatives."

TC Energy said in canceling the pipeline that the company is focused on meeting "evolving energy demands" as the world transitions to different power sources. It said it has $7 billion in other projects under development.

Keystone XL's price tag had ballooned as the project languished, increasing from $5.4 billion to $9 billion. Meanwhile, oil prices fell significantly — from more than $100 a barrel in 2008 to under $70 in recent months — slowing development of Canada's oil sands and threatening to eat into any profits from moving the fuel to refineries.


Local
IDOT wants your suggestions on the state's rail system
  • Updated

The Illinois Department of Transportation needs your help to develop a statewide rail plan and to inform on its ongoing state long-range transportation plan.

IDOT is inviting the public to participate in a new study assessing the state’s rail system.

The goal is to gather public comments and suggestions on the current conditions of the state’s rail system, as well as concerns about capacity and safety challenges to help identify potential improvements and solutions.

BYRON HETZLER 

Amtrak’s Illini train passes by the conductor statue near the Old Train Depot as it departs Carbondale in February 2020. The statue was built in 1997 to honor Carbondale’s railroad history. At its peak, there were 53 daily passenger trains passing through Carbondale.

Comments will be collected through June 14 at illinoisrailneeds.org. The site includes a short video, informational displays and a link to a survey.

Participation in the Illinois Rail Needs Assessment Survey will give stakeholders and the public the opportunity to identify infrastructure issues that are reducing the efficiency of the transportation network in Illinois, according to Paul Wappel, public information officer for IDOT.

The survey will provide IDOT with a clear understanding of the needs and strategies for improving the existing rail system, what limitations are present, and what improvements can be considered for the future.

ROB STROUD, JOURNAL GAZETTE & TIMES-COURIER 

Riders board the Amtrak train in Mattoon in October. 

Under the bipartisan Rebuild Illinois capital program, Illinois is making historic investments in passenger and freight rail, including $100 million for safety and reliability improvements on Amtrak’s Saluki service between Chicago and Carbondale.

Ridership on Illini/Saluki corridor for calendar year 2019, the last full year pre-COVID-19, was 268,997.

Other rail system Rebuild Illinois investments include $500 million to re-establish a passenger rail to the Quad Cities and Rockford, $400 million for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation and Efficiency (CREATE) Program, and $78 million to upgrade rail crossings and improve safety throughout the state.

The city of Carbondale also is investing in transportation through the Southern Illinois Multi Modal Station project, also called SIMMS. The new transportation center will be constructed in downtown Carbondale on the east side of South Illinois Avenue.

The city expects to break ground on the project in fall of 2022 and complete the project in 2024.

City officials have said the station will be a hub for three regional transit services: Rides Mass Transit, South Central Transit and Shawnee Mass Transit.

The three transit systems cover around 30 counties in Southern Illinois. The station also will serve Amtrak, Greyhound, Saluki Express and Jackson County Mass Transit.

The station is part of IDOT’s goal to establish a statewide transit system.

Illinois is the rail hub of North America, the only state in which all seven Class 1 railroads operate, according to IDOT. Illinois boasts more than 10,000 miles of track and serves a robust passenger rail network, with Amtrak connecting 30 communities statewide and Metra operating 11 lines in the Chicago area.


Govt-and-politics
Watch now: With Jesse White retiring, field for Illinois secretary of state race growing
  • Updated

In 2019, Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White said he would not seek reelection in 2022 — for real, this time. 

It’s been a running joke of sorts in political circles as White, 86, has toyed with retirement before, even saying he wouldn’t run again in 2018 before backtracking and coasting to a record sixth term.

But White is serious this time, leaving an open seat for the first time in 24 years. And a wide range of candidates have already announced campaigns to fill it.

Former State Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias is the most prominent candidate throwing his hat in the ring. He's also been joined by fellow Democrats Chicago City Clerk Anna Valencia, south suburban state Sen. Michael Hastings and Chicago aldermen Pat Dowell and David Moore.

There are currently no declared candidates on the Republican side, but former Illinois Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who resigned in January after being deposed from his leadership position, is believed to be considering a run.

State Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington, confirmed to Heart of Illinois ABC last week that he is also considering a run. State Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, has also been linked to a run for statewide office in 2022.

It’s easy to see why Democrats wanted to keep White around as long as possible. He’s a beloved figure in the party and by most accounts runs a good office.

And it was one less statewide race to worry about — White has secured at least 62% of the vote in all of his reelection campaigns, often winning in areas Democrats have long ceded in other state and federal races. It’s been several cycles since Republicans seriously contested the office.

It could present the best opportunity for Republicans to break through on the statewide ballot in 2022 given that it's an open seat and that it should be a favorable national climate for the party.  

There's a lot at stake. After all, it’s the state's second-largest constitutional office after the governor’s office, employing more than 4,000 people, with responsibilities that exceed most of its counterpart offices in other states. 

Most prominently, it is the unit of government that issues driver’s licenses and registers motor vehicles. The secretary of state is also the keeper of official state records, maintains the 20-building Capitol Complex and oversees the state library. 

And from a political perspective, the office has been a springboard for higher office. White's two immediate predecessors, George Ryan and Jim Edgar, went on to become governor. Alan Dixon, who served from 1977 to 1981, was subsequently elected to the U.S. Senate. 

Giannoulias is easily the most prominent name to emerge. A basketball buddy of former President Barack Obama who was elected state treasurer in 2006 at the age of 30, he was considered a rising star in Illinois politics.

But that rise came to a crashing halt in 2010, when he was defeated in his run for U.S. Senate by Republican Mark Kirk. It was a lousy year for Democrats nationally, but many attributed Giannoulias’ defeat to his ties with his family’s troubled bank, which closed that year after becoming overburdened with bad loans. 

Those same questions will undoubtedly resurface as the campaign heats up. But thus far, Giannoulias has proven that he still has political chops after 10 years in the private sector. 

In recent weeks, he has announced several major endorsements, including from the Service Employees International Union State Council, which counts 150,000 members in Illinois. The union’s Local 73 represents about 2,700 workers in the secretary of state’s office. 

“Alexi’s knowledge of our issues, his demonstrated support for worker rights and his clear understanding of the Secretary of State’s office makes him the undisputed choice for labor and the best chance we have for ensuring the seat remains held by a Democrat,” said SEIU Local 1 President Tom Balanoff. 

Days later, he added influential U.S. Rep. Chuy Garcia, D-Chicago, to the list along with several other prominent Latinx officials in Garcia’s orbit. And money isn’t an issue — Giannoulias has more than $2.4 million on hand, according to Illinois Sunshine.

But, the road to the nomination won’t be a coronation. 

Valencia, who officially announced her campaign earlier this week, has secured endorsements from Unite Here Local 1, which represents about 15,000 Chicago-area hospitality workers, and the Latino Victory Fund, a political organization that supports Latinx candidates running at all levels of government. 

Before her appointment as Chicago City Clerk in 2016, Valencia was a well-regarded political operative, running campaigns for Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Chicago, and Sen. Dick Durbin before serving in both governmental and political roles under former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

She is also a native of Granite City, perhaps providing an opening to capture support in Metro East. 

Hastings, an Army veteran, has served in the Illinois Senate since 2013. He has secured the endorsement of the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters. 

Dowell has served on the Chicago City Council since 2007, representing the south lakefront, including McCormick Place. Moore was elected to the council in 2015, representing several South Side neighborhoods

And there’s still time for others to jump in. There will definitely be Republicans who take the leap.

However, in this initial stage, which some have called the “invisible primary,” Giannoulias is off to a fast start. We will see if he can maintain that momentum through the June 28, 2022 primary. 

Lawmakers to return next week

As promised, the Illinois General Assembly is heading back to Springfield next week to take up clean energy legislation and a handful of other unresolved topics.

The Senate will be in town Tuesday and the House on Wednesday.

The energy bill is expected to outline a roadmap to a carbon-free future and provide subsidies to three of Exelon’s nuclear power plants, which were in danger of closure.

The process hit a roadblock after some lawmakers raised concerns about the future of municipally-owned and cooperative coal-fired power plants. But, those issues have apparently been resolved. 


 


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