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Barnett: GOP Turns County Redistricting Into A ‘Charade’

Josh Barnett
Jeff Smudde
Josh Barnett
Updated: May 10, 2021 at 5:25 PM CDT
WGLT updated this story to reflect the County Board Executive Committee endorsed the five-district plan on Monday.

A McLean County Board member says his party has been plotting behind closed doors for months to create new district board maps that would make it harder for Democrats to get elected.

Republican Josh Barnett of Bloomington said County Board chair John McIntyre rejected his call for a bipartisan advisory panel to help draw the maps.

“They are trying to dump Republican voters from the rural areas into Bloomington-Normal in an attempt to keep control of the County Board for the next decade,” Barnett said. “They are not being open about that. They are not being honest about it and it’s time that it stops and is brought to light.”

Republicans currently hold an 11-9 majority on the board, but the GOP majority has been trimmed in recent elections.

Barnett said McIntyre responded that Democrats posed a “growing threat” on the board and said he was trying to “contain them.”

Barnett said McIntyre’s response “shocked” him.

“He has always from his seat on the board talked about the need for cooperation, talked about the need to work together, talked about the need to set politics aside and do what’s best for the county. Those are all things that I value."

John McIntyre
WGLT file photo
John McIntyre

McIntyre denied Barnett’s characterization of their conversations. McIntyre said various groups have presented and discussed proposals and that he isn’t backing any particular plan. McIntyre said he has been trying to work with both parties on a solution, but suggested Democrats haven’t been willing to meet with him.

“I figured this thing was going to play itself out, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to,” McIntyre said. “It seems like everybody wants to run to the media to try to get something done.”

Barnett said fellow County Board member George Wendt has been crafting a five-district plan and that several Republican board members have been meeting with him privately to review the maps.

“They are taking place in quote-unquote smoke-filled rooms,” Barnett said. “As much as the Republicans within McLean County like to decry Chicago-style politics, that’s exactly what they have been practicing during this entire process.”

The County Board’s Executive Committee on Monday voted 5-3 to consider the five-district plan which the board’s rules subcommittee has endorsed. Republicans Barnett and Randall Martin joined Democrat Laurie Wollrab in voting no. Republicans Wendt, Chuck Erickson, Catherine Metsker, Susan Schafer, Jim Soeldner voted in support of the plan. McIntyre did not vote.

The County Board is scheduled to hold a special meeting Tuesday to vote on a Democrat-supported plan to keep the current 10 districts.

Republicans have generally backed a plan to cut the number of County Board districts in half. They argue it would allow for better representation for rural residents. Democrats initially backed a 20-district plan, but have now lined up behind keeping the number of districts at 10, after the county’s assistant state’s attorney said the county would need to hold a public referendum to change to a one-member-per-district format.

Barnett also said McIntyre told him McLean County State's Attorney Don Knapp and former County Board member Scott Murphy presented their own four-district plan to McIntyre before the election last November.

Barnett suggested that would signal Knapp, a Republican, seems to be move involved in the political process than his predecessors.

“Jason Chambers, Bill Yoder, Charlie Reynard were not traditionally this involved in local politics and what’s going on within county government, especially at the board level,” Barnett said. “It certainly signals a change in that office.”

The state's attorney would be one of five members on a commission that would draw the maps if the County Board can't agree on a plan by July 1. Barnett said he believes that’s where the process is headed. He and the nine Democrats have expressed support for a 10-district plan.

Knapp refuted Barnett’s claim that he has sought any role in the redistricting process.

“Reapportionment wasn’t even on my radar until recently and while I’ve tried to answer questions from anyone who has asked about the process, almost no one has asked,” Knapp said in an email to WGLT.

Wendt declined to comment.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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