Thursday, May 19, 2011

Senate Democratic map could send Republicans packing

By Jamey Dunn with Lauren N. Johnson contributing 

Illinois Senate Democrats released a proposed map of legislative districts today that would likely leave several Senate Republicans weighing their options and considering renting moving vans in the near future.

Since Democrats control both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, they could pass a new legislative plan without the backing of a single Republican, assuming both chambers can agree and Gov. Pat Quinn signs off on the end product before the end of May. The legislature technically has until the end of June to pass a bill, but after May 31, Democrats would need some Republican votes for the map to go into effect before June 2012.

It is this unmitigated power to draw the map that has left many Republicans with a bitter taste in their mouths about the process. Sen. Dale Righter, the top Republican member of the Senate Redistricting Map Committee, said that he and his party had no more input in the map released today than any other citizen. “I don’t know whether they’re smoking in there or not, but clearly, they’re in a closed-door room drawing the lines. And I would suggest to you that if you didn’t know who drew these lines and you just looked at the map, it wouldn’t take you very long to figure out which party had drawn them,” said Righter, a Mattoon Republican.

Righter said this map, along with other from the recent past, illustrate the need for a change to the process. Republicans and Democrats proposed competing revamps of the redistricting process last spring. Neither plan was approved by the legislature. “I think the evidence of the last three remaps certainly demonstrates that that’s what happens when you leave the process in the hands of incumbent legislators — I don’t care what party. When you leave it in the hands of incumbent legislators, the lines are going to be driven politically, and I think that’s what you’ve seen again here,” he said.

However, Senate President John Cullerton said that the map was not drafted with an eye for putting incumbent Republicans out of a job. “We’re flowing the voting rights act. We’re following the Illinois voting rights act as well as the federal voting rights act. And we’re complying with the people that testified [at redistricting hearings held throughout the state] in favor of certain configurations,” Cullerton said. “It follows the law, and it’s fair.”

Under the proposal, some pairs of Republican incumbent senators would live in the same legislative districts — meaning that if they wanted to run in the districts where they currently reside, incumbents would have to battle it out in a primary. Perhaps the most notable paring up in a district is Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno from Lemont and Republican freshman Sen. Ron Sandack from Downers Grove. They would share the 41st Senate District.

“I’m just trying to evaluate it,” Radogno said. “I’m not alarmed by it. I’ve been in this situation before. Other members have as well. Everyone looks at all the opportunities…so just looking at where peoples’ houses are on the map doesn’t represent every opportunity that they might have.”
Downstate Illinois lost population, so the result was a proposal with larger districts. And many downstate Republicans found they would be left out of their current districts if the Senate Democrats' map is approved. “Most of the southern Illinois Republicans were drawn out of their district. … And this has happened before, but that doesn’t make it right. This I think proves that the way we draw a map is corrupt, political and kind of despicable, really. … This was strictly political, and it always has been, and to claim that it is not is just not being honest,” said Sen. David Luechtefeld, a Republican from Okawville who would be shifted from his district under the proposed map.

“Five out of six southern Illinois Republicans were drawn out of their map, strictly drawn out of their district. That just didn’t happen by accident,” he added.

Kent Redfield, an emeritus political science professor at the University of Illinois Springfield, said the shrinking downstate population coupled with a political shift toward Republicans in the region led Democrats to draw some “creative” districts to try to hold onto their numbers. He pointed to the Democrats' proposal to split Sangamon County, where Springfield is located, into three Senate districts. The county currently has one state senator. To create the three districts, map drafters pulled in populations from the Decatur and Bloomington areas. “Those kinds of things really highlight how unimportant communities of interest — cities and counties — really are in terms of crafting a map.” Redfield said that under the plan, some Springfield residents could potentially have a senator from Decatur or Bloomington who they may not believe shares their community’s interests. “It makes sense from a partisan standpoint, but most citizens don’t think of it that way. … It’s not particularly healthy if we want people to understand politics and have a sense of community,” he said.

Incumbents who find themselves mapped out of their current districts do have options. In the 2012 general election — when all seats in the General Assembly are up for grabs — they can run in any new district that contains any portion of their old district without actually living there. A lawmaker elected for a two-year term to represent a district that he or she does not live in would have about six months to move into that district to be eligible for reelection. Those elected for four-year terms would have about 30 months to relocate.

Redfield said that in some cases, the party in power might put two minority party incumbents in the same district simply to cause tension and force them to chose between relocating or potentially losing their seats. “There will probably be instances where they’ve drawn them in ways — it’s safe districts, but some Republicans have to move, even though there is no advantage to Democrats. It’s just screwing around with your opponents.”

 “Republicans would have done the same thing as the Democrats” if they controlled the legislature, he added.

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they saw the map released today as a jumping off point, and they expect some changes. Cullerton said he encourages those unhappy with the map to submit amendments with potential changes. “We have at least a week before we vote on it, so people can offer amendments if they want.” The Senate Redistricting Committee has a hearing scheduled on Saturday in Chicago and another on Tuesday in Springfield.

The Senate Democrats' map did not include House districts. House Democrats are expected to release their proposed map tomorrow.

Christopher Mooney, a political studies professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, explained: “The House districts are nested in the Senate districts, and that means that they basically cut the Senate districts in half population wise. And that will be another shock to the system around here.”

For some localized takes on the Senate Democrats' proposal see:

The State Journal-Register

Belleville News-Democrat

Herald & Review

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