Illinois's Democratic redistricting--and how Republicans may respond 

Illinois Democrats’ congressional redistricting map has been released; you can see the district lines on this statewide map and on this map of Cook County and the Collar Counties (DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Lake, McHenry and Will Counties) plus portions of some counties beyond. This is a partisan redistricting plan if I have ever seen one, and it or something very much like it will undoubtedly be passed by the Illinois House (64-54 Democratic, led by Michael Madigan who has been Speaker for all but two Republican years since 1982) and Senate (35-24 Democratic) and signed by Governor Pat Quinn (Democrat elected in 2010 by a 46%-45% margin while carrying just 4 of 102 counties: Cook (Chicago), St. Clair (East St. Louis), Jackson (Southern Illinois University at Carbondale) and Alexander (Cairo, where the Ohio River flows into the Mississippi).


Illinois lost 1 of its 19 House seats in the reapportionment following the 2010 election. Going into the November 2010 election Democrats held 12-7 lead over Republicans in the state’s House delegation. Democrats won the popular vote for the House 61%-37% in 2008, as Illinois’s own Barack Obama was carrying the state 62%-37%. Democrats lost 4 seats in November 2010, leaving the delegation 11-8 Republican. Democrats led in the popular vote for the House by 51%-47%, quite a turnaround from 2008; the reason they came out behind in seats is that they carried Chicago-based districts by wide margins but lost 1 seats in the Collar Counties, 1 split between the Collar Counties and Downstate and 2 more entirely in the Downstate region.


The redistricting plan is an attempt to turn that advantage back around, and it might do even more than that if the 2008 figures are a guide, as the Cook Report’s!/Redistrict David Wasserman has calculated.  The majority-black districts held by Bobby Rush (1st), Jesse Jackson Jr. (2nd) and Danny Davis (7th) are extended out far into the suburbs but remain overwhelmingly Democratic; Jackson is given the town of Peotone in Kankakee County where he would like to build a new metro Chicago airport. The same is true of the notorious horseshoe-shaped majority-Hispanic district of Luis Gutierrez (4th). (I note parenthetically that all the high-minded folks who complain about grotesquely shaped districts should be aware that the most egregious examples, in Illinois and elsewhere, are generally created to comply with the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act requiring the maximization of the number of majority-minority districts.) The same is also true of the predominantly white but very heavily Democratic districts of Dan Lipinski (3rd), Mike Quigley (5th, formerly represented by Rahm Emanuel and Dan Rostenkowski) and Jan Schakowsky (9th). And the far Downstate heavily Democratic district of Jerry Costello (12th) is also extended outward; it includes three of the four counties carried by Pat Quinn. So all 8 Democratic incumbents are thoroughly well protected. Republicans are complaining that vast tracts of suburban townships, some marginal and some Republican, are being consigned to Democrats whose political bases are all in the city of Chicago. But they could hardly have expected otherwise.


Democratic redistricters have also created Democratic-leaning districts out in the suburbs: a 10th district on the North Shore and inland in what has been increasingly Democratic territory, an 8th district in DuPage County and northwest Cook County that seems drawn to exclude more Republican suburbs and an 11th district that unites heavily Hispanic or black communities in Aurora and Joliet in the hope that their heavy Democratic margins will override small Republican percentages in much of the land in between. In addition redistricters created a new 13th district with no Republican incumbent which unites Democratic portions of Champaign-Urbana, Springfield and Madison County suburbs of St. Louis which could very easily elect a freshman Democrat. If Democrats win all 4 of these seats, they would emerge with a 12-6 advantage in the delegation.  


The local coverage devotes much attention to where the current residences of the Republican incumbents are, but that really doesn’t matter much; the Constitution only requires that a House member be a citizen of the state he or she represents. That said, at least half the current Republican incumbents are going to be faced with difficult decisions as to which district to run in or whether to retire. It seems likely that freshman Republican Bob Dold will run in the 10th district, which is similar to the seat which Senator Mark Kirk used to represent and which Dold carried 51%-49% in 2010. 6th district Republican Peter Roskam, a member of the Republican leadership, has a new 6th district which includes much of his old territory and seems to be solid Republican; but he could face Republican incumbent Judy Biggert whose old district has been split up and has no recognizable descendant in the Democrats’ plans. The new 14th district could see a primary contest between incumbents Joe Walsh and Randy Hultgren; the new 17th district could see a primary between veteran incumbent Don Manzullo and freshman Bobby Schilling; the new 15th district could see a primary between incumbents John Shimkus and Tim Johnson, or Johnson might choose to run in the 16th district against freshman Adam Kinzinger or in the 18th district against sophomore Aaron Schock who just turned 30 and is the youngest member of Congress.


Wasserman has estimated that Democrats could win as many as 13 seats, giving them a 13-5 edge in the delegation; I only see a maximum of 12 seats for them giving them a 12-6 advantage. It seems to me unlikely that Democrats will do as well in House races as they did in 2008 and that at the same time the fact that Illinois will not be a target state—everyone expects Obama to carry it easily—means that local Democrats in the suburbs and Downstate will have to conduct their own turnout drives among minority and college town voters if they are to capture some of these districts which may be within their reach. My best guess at the moment is that an 11-8 Republican delegation will be transformed to an 11-7 Democratic delegation by this plan, a loss of 4 seats for Republicans and a gain of 3 for Democrats.


This is likely to be the Democrats’ biggest gain in redistricting in the 2010 Census cycle. In two of the other 3 states where Democrats hold the governorship and both houses of the legislature, California (53 seats after reapportionment) and Washington (10 seats), redistricting will be done by putatively bipartisan commissions. It is possible that Democrats will make marginal redistricting gains in those states, but probably not more than 1 seat in each (Dennis Kucinich, in grave danger of losing his Ohio seat because of both demographics and politics, has been visiting Puget Sound lately in search of a new district in a new state).  Other states where Democrats have total control include Massachusetts (9 seats) and Connecticut (5 seats), where Democrats already hold all House seats, and they will lose at least 1 of those because Massachusetts lost 1 seat in reapportionment. Nor can Democrats gain any seats in Rhode Island (2 seats, both Democratic), Vermont (1 seat, Democratic) or Delaware (ditto). Maryland (8 seats) already has a Democratic plan in place and a 6-2 Democratic delegation; redistricters there could try to weaken Eastern Shore Republican Andy Harris. Democrats also control redistricting in West Virginia (3 seats) and Arkansas (4 seats), which currently have 2-1 and 3-1 Republican delegations. But Barack Obama is hugely unpopular in those states and I think the most Democrats can hope for is a 1-seat gain in West Virginia.


Ten years ago Democrats pushed through a similarly ruthless partisan redistricting plan in Georgia (14 seats after the 2010 reapportionment). In response national Republicans, notably National Republican Campaign Committee Chairman Tom Davis, urged Republicans in control of the process to produce partisan plans in Pennsylvania (18 seats), Michigan (14 seats) and Florida (27 seats), which they all did; later, when Republicans won control of the governorship and the legislature in Georgia and Texas (36 seats) they adopted partisan redistricting plans which withstood court challenge. Republicans again control the process in all five of those states now, so they are not likely to make substantial gains in redistricting. But in North Carolina (13 seats) the Democratic governor does not have a veto and the Republican legislature seems determined to reverse the Democratic districting plan adopted a decade ago. And in Ohio (16 seats) the current plan was a bipartisan incumbent-protection plan; Republicans have the votes now for a partisan plan if they meet a constitutional deadline that they bungled and failed to meet in 2002. And in Missouri (8 seats) a plan adopted by Republicans and black Democrats over the veto of the Democratic voters seems very likely to deprive Democrat Russ Carnahan of the seat he barely held onto in 2010, a seat once held by House Democratic Leader Dick Gephardt. Republican redistricters will be limited to some extent by the prevailing interpretation of the Voting Rights Act, which may require them to create 2 new Hispanic-majority seats in Texas (though one should note that they captured 2 Hispanic-majority seats, the 23rd and 27th, in 2010) and 1 new black-majority seat in South Carolina (7 seats).

The bottom line is that Republicans will have to hustle to offset the effect of the Democratic redistricting plan in Illinois, but that they will probably make a net gain nationally in redistricting, but not a large one—less than 10 seats. If that seems like a small gain to make after the big Republican sweep, especially big in state legislative seats, in 2010, it’s largely because Republicans already made big gains in the redistricting cycle following the 2000 Census.

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