Week in Review: Redistricting, Bears, fall fun & more

Pritzker again breaks pledge to voters, signs second partisan legislative map. In May 2021 and again in August 2021, the Democrats who make up the majorities of both houses of the General Assembly passed bills to remap the Illinois House and Senate. The maps, enthusiastically supported by Democrats, contained map lines intended to give districts to many of them where they could look forward to almost automatic re-elections.

As a candidate for governor in 2018, JB Pritzker was asked the following question regarding redistricting: “Will you pledge as governor to veto any state legislative redistricting map proposal that is in any way drafted or created by legislators, political party leaders and/or their staffs or allies?”

Then-candidate Pritzker’s verbatim response: “Yes, I will pledge to veto. 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. That designated body should reflect the gender, racial, and geographic diversity of the state and look to preserve the Voting Rights Act decisions to ensure racial and language minorities are fully represented in the electoral process.”

After the actual 2020 U.S. Census population numbers were released in early August 2021, the problems of the first legislative redistricting map became apparent. Based on pre-U.S. Census population numbers and guesswork, the first map drew Illinois legislative districts that varied sharply in population from one district to the next, in obvious violation of federal constitutional norms. Democrats rushed a second map through both houses of the General Assembly on August 31. Governor Pritzker signed the new map on Friday, September 24. Pritzker broke his promise to Illinois voters not once, but twice, when he signed the latest partisan map into law.

Under Illinois law, the State is not allowed to enact a partisan map after June 30, 2021. After each June 30 in a mapmaking year, Illinois is required by explicit State law to convene a bipartisan process to generate fair, nonpartisan maps. These facts, and others, are elements of ongoing legal action in federal court against the Democrat-controlled Illinois mapmaking process of 2021.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin released the following statement on Governor Pritzker’s second signing of partisan maps:

"Governor Pritzker’s signing of the legislative maps sends a clear picture of the severity of his ‘retrograde amnesia’ and efforts to deceive Illinois citizens. The Governor now joins the multitude of Democratic legislators who lied to voters by campaigning for and promising ‘fair maps.’ Once again, Governor Pritzker has proven that he governs only for the Democratic political insiders and not for the people of Illinois.”

Democrats unveil plan to pass congressional redistricting map in October veto session. On Tuesday, Sept. 28, Democrats announced that they have relaunched a little used online map-making portal that will allow Illinois residents to draw and submit proposed congressional redistricting maps. Senate President Don Harmon stated that the General Assembly will be returning to Springfield for veto session in October, “and the first priority is to pass a congressional map.”

The House Redistricting Committee Republican Spokesperson, Rep. Tim Butler, issued the following statement in response to House and Senate Democrats announcing the relaunch of their much-maligned public map-making portal for new congressional boundaries:

“The sad truth is that this is just another attempt by Democrats to act like this is a free and fair process, but the facts have proven otherwise,” said Butler. “The relaunching of a portal that included a multitude of malfunctions that went unaddressed by them before, I don’t expect much to be different this time around.”

Chicago Bears sign purchase agreement for Arlington Heights racecourse land. The end of horse racing at Arlington Park in Chicago’s northwest suburbs leaves only two active venues for live commercial horse racing in Illinois: Hawthorne near Chicago, and Fairmount near St. Louis. In addition to these tracks with full racing meets, short harness meets are hosted at State and some county fairgrounds during fair dates. In addition, racing aficionados can place bets at off-track betting parlors throughout Illinois, and utilize advance-deposit wagering with one of the two remaining tracks to place bets from home. The last day of Arlington Park 2021 horse racing was on Saturday, September 25.

Owner Churchill Downs Inc. had previously announced that 2021 would be Arlington Park’s last season of live horse racing. The track’s ownership has signed an agreement to sell the 326-acre property to the Chicago Bears for use as a football stadium location. Some teams throughout the United States have begun developing stadium-experience exurban neighborhoods that include an adjacent shopping mall, entertainment center, hotels, hospitality space and meeting space. An example is the AT & T Stadium/Texas Live! Complex in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Closure of the Arlington Park purchase agreement is predicated upon getting planning permission from the Village of Arlington Heights. It is anticipated that the process will be complex, and will involve the creation and disclosure of planning documents to depict the proposed new stadium/shopping/entertainment complex. If the agreement is completed, the Chicago Bears would buy the Arlington Park property for $197.2 million. The Arlington Park purchase agreement was announced on Wednesday, September 29. If the Bears purchase the Arlington Park racetrack space and develop a new stadium complex on its land parcel, this would move the team out of their current stadium, Chicago’s Soldier Field. Rebuilt in 2002, Soldier Field holds just 61,500 fans, the smallest capacity in the National Football League.

Spread of “Delta variant” appears to begin to decline in Illinois. The raw numbers of Illinois coronavirus virulence are contained in overall new-case reports made by testing labs to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). With the rollout of mass coronavirus vaccinations, these COVID-19 “positives” fell sharply in spring 2021. The case counts then rose in summer with the arrival and spread of the so-called “Delta variant.” This variant was strong enough to infect many of the remaining unvaccinated Illinoisans. A few vaccinated persons were also diagnosed with the virus. In the vast majority of so-called “breakthrough” Delta/COVID cases among vaccinated patients, the cases were relatively mild and non-life-threatening.

As the Delta variant became the dominant form of COVID-19 circulating in Illinois, virus cases climbed to a peak, on September 3, 2021, of 6,000 new IDPH case reports per day. A series of events then took place. Governor Pritzker issued new executive orders to require the wearing of facemasks in public indoor spaces, as well as vaccine and testing mandates for certain workers. The virulence of the “Delta variant” has begun to fall sharply in Illinois, in a pattern that ran parallel to the rise and fall of previous variants. By September 27, three and a half weeks after the Delta peak, new Illinois COVID-19 case reports had fallen by two-thirds, from 6,000 cases per day to 2,000 cases per day.

For senior citizens/members of at-risk groups who have already gotten a Pfizer vaccination, COVID-19 booster shots are now being offered. Soon, vaccinations for school-age children under the age of 12 will also be offered. Public health experts believe that COVID-19 will continue to be a significant factor in overall Illinois health care until vaccination becomes universal.

Corn maze/pumpkin patch time returns. The corn maze and pick-your-own pumpkin patch, a traditional staple of Illinois family fun, is back in fall 2021. Outdoor recreational activities, including corn mazes, are recommended during times challenged by contagious close-contact diseases. The farm-fall-festival website “Corn Mazes and More” posts information on the corn mazes and roadside pumpkin patches located throughout Illinois. Many corn mazes offer Halloween-themed activities, light family entertainment, and additional items for sale oriented towards Thanksgiving and Christmas. The prime season for corn mazes extends from late September until mid-November.

Near-record attendance at State Fair. Admission figures posted by the 2021 Illinois State Fair show that 472,000 Illinois residents and visitors came to the Springfield fairgrounds from August 12 through 22, 2021. This was second only to the record-attendance year of 2019, when 508,900 fairgoers attended. Despite pandemic mitigation precautions, more than 44,500 Grandstand tickets were sold in 2021, generating ticket-booth revenue of $1.5 million. Admission fees and other revenues bought in an additional $3.5 million in 2021. The next Illinois State Fair will be held from August 11 through August 21, 2022.