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McLean County Board Redistricting Panels Show Diversity, Lack 'Younger Voices'

JimSoeldnerElizabethJohnston
McLean County government
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McLean County Board members Jim Soeldner and Elizabeth Johnston helped draft 24 people to serve on the county's redistricting advisory panels.

The two McLean County Board members who helped recruit people to draw the county's new political maps for the next decade say the redistricting panels have a fair and diverse representation of the county, but there's one shortfall.

There's hardly anyone under age 40.

County Board Chair John McIntyre tabbed Republican vice chair Jim Soeldner and Democrat Elizabeth Johnston to provide names of people to serve on what McIntyre called a "Red, White and Blue" advisory committee. They would take the map making process out of the hands of county board members except for the final vote.

The committee is made of doctors, educators, business owners and three retired judges Elizabeth Robb, Kevin Fitzgerald and John Freeze.

As Soeldner explained, they started out looking for eight people. He said it was hard to find political balance and diversity in such a small pool.

“As we started to break it down as far as gender or ethnicity or whatever, we just found that eight just didn’t seem to be enough,” Soeldner said.

Johnston said McIntyre also reasoned creating three proposed district maps was too much for one group to manage. So one group of eight became three groups — a total of 24 people.

“That kind of last-minute change was not something I was super excited about, but as we were talking, I realized that it would give more seats to the table,” Johnston said. “It would allow us to expand and to have more voices involved. I thought that anything that could bring more people into that process was a good thing.”

Both Soeldner and Johnston said they wanted appointees not driven by ideology, or people who might become a distraction. They both vetoed a couple of the other's choices.

Soeldner said the biggest challenge was finding more young people to serve.

“If we had (gone) to the universities, we would have (had) a large number of young people, but it we didn’t have a lot of time to go that route,” he said.

Soeldner and Johnston both said younger adults don’t seem to be as politically involved, but Johnston stressed the big problem was timing. They had just a few days to put a committee together.

“If I could go back, I would have preferred doing this in March so we would have had more time to do that wider recruitment to get some younger voices,” Johnston said.

McIntyre announced the advisory committee earlier this month after weeks of contentious debate over how many districts the county should have. The County Board decided to keep it at 10 districts with two members in each district.

Board member Josh Barnett said he had proposed an independent commission in March and that McIntyre turned it down. Soeldner came to McIntyre's defense saying the idea had been under consideration for a while.

“We talked some time ago about who would you have on a commission. He mentioned a long time ago about maybe having some judges help oversee it,” Soeldner said. “The fact that it wasn’t made public doesn’t mean it wasn’t occurring.”

Johnston said even though the move to advisory panels came late and forced a late-minute rush, she hopes this model lays a foundation that future county boards will adopt.

“The public wanted to know what was happening and they weren’t getting the answers,” Johnston said. “Having this taken out of the hands of elected officials and put back to the voters, I think is going to help with that process.”

McIntyre instructed county board members to stay out of the map making process and to let the advisory panels do their work. Still the elected board will have the final vote on whatever map gets chosen.

Soeldner said you can't take politics out of the process entirely.

“Unfortunately, it’s still going to end up being political,” Soeldner conceded. “I suspect you are going to find one party favoring one map and another party favoring another map, although with three maps it’s hard to tell how it will pan out.”

Republicans in Illinois have complained for decades about Democrats rigging the state legislative maps for their own political gain. Johnston said she doesn’t see where turnabout is fair play.

“I think that’s part of the issue that we see in politics is that if they are doing this then I can do that,” Johnston said. “But what I think is really in the best interest of the people is the best interest of the people.”

Given how contentious this issue has been among county board members, Soeldner said there's still some hard feelings among board members and said it will take time for those wounds to heal.

The three advisory panels are expected to draft their map proposals by the end of June. The county plans to make the maps available for the public to view and recommend changes.

The final three drafts will go to the County Board for a vote on July 15.

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