Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Illinois will lose a congressional seat

By Jamey Dunn

Illinois will lose one U.S. House seat in the upcoming remap of legislative districts, but at one expert believes it won’t have much effect on the process legislators use to draw the map.

Nationwide, 12 congressional seats will shift, according to census figures released today. Most of the states losing seats are in the Midwest and Northeast, with the exception of Louisiana. Those gaining representation are in the southern and western parts of the country.

Illinois lost one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2000 remap,and two seats after both the 1990 and 1980 population counts. Since 1970, when Illinois’ seat count held steady, the state has gone from 24 to 18 seats.

With 12, 830,632 residents, Illinois showed a 3.3 percent population growth since 2000 — when the population was 12, 419, 293. That has slowed from an 8.6 percent growth between 1990 and 2000. The state remains the fifth largest state in the nation. Congressional districts in Illinois will average 714,688 residents.

John Jackson, a visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said Illinois’ flagging economy likely played a large role in its slowed growth. “I’m sure that our loss of jobs and our loss of people go hand and hand. … We need to turn around the economy in Illinois. I don’t sneeze off the fact that we have some variables that we need to change.”

Jackson said some of the reform issues legislators plan to take up in early January, such as changes to the state’s Medicaid and workers’ compensation systems, might improve the state’s economy. He warned, however, that Illinois must not engage in a “race to the bottom” when it comes to protecting and caring for its citizens.

Jackson said the picture painted by the business sector of people fleeing Illinois en masse for the more business-friendly climates of neighboring states might be overblown. Iowa and Missouri each lost one congressional seat, and Indiana’s count was static. “[These states are] not the Garden of Eden, perhaps,” he said.

This is the first year since the current redistricting process was put into place under the 1970 Constitution that one party will hold both chambers of the General Assembly and the governor’s office while a new map is being drawn. But Jackson, who worked on proposed reforms to Illinois’ redistricting process for the public policy institute, doesn’t think it will change the process by which the congressional districts are divided. State legislators and the governor could draw the congressional map, but they traditionally leave it to the congressional delegation to sort out among themselves. While Illinois’ delegation will soon be majority Republican, and state government is in Democratic hands, Jackson doesn’t expect that tradition to change.

He believes Republicans will agree to sacrifice the seat of one of the new members elected in the November general election keep their map out state legislators’ hands.

“I think this one will be an easier one than some of those in the past because you have four brand-new freshmen, and they are all Republican. … I am not sure that the Republicans will fight real hard for any of those four.”

He thinks current delegation members’ opinions of the freshmen will play a much larger role in deciding who “gets voted off the island” than shifts in population. “It will be the guy they like the least.”

Jackson points to the last time Illinois lost a seat, when there was “a bipartisan agreement to throw [former Democratic U.S. Rep.] David Phelps overboard.” He was drawn into the same district as Republican and fellow incumbent Rep. John Shimkus.

Jackson said Democrats on the state level will likely be much more concerned with their own battles to protect their districts, with “self-interest being the number-one factor.”

The U.S. Census Bureau will begin releasing the data needed for redistricting, which drills down numbers to a block-by-block level, in February.

For interactive charts, data, video guide to the congressional reapportionment process and more, visit the U.S. Census Bureau's website.

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