By Jamey Dunn
Gov. Pat Quinn signed the Democratic drawn map of congressional districts today as Republicans decried the process as a blatant attempt to erase the gains they made in last year’s election.
“The people of Illinois provided input at public hearings for both the congressional and state legislative maps. I have carefully reviewed the congressional redistricting map. This map is fair, maintains competitiveness within congressional districts, and protects the voting rights of minority communities,” Quinn said in a prepared statement.
Republicans gained control over the state’s congressional delegation last November. But some of the newly elected Republican U.S. representatives may not keep their jobs for long. “Governor Quinn has lost all claims to the label reformer. This bill is a crass, partisan political move to silence the voices of Illinoisans, who last November made it very clear that they wanted to fire [former House Majority Leader] Nancy Pelosi by electing a majority Republican congressional delegation from the home state of President Obama,” Illinois Republican Party Chair Pat Brady said in a prepared statement.
John Jackson, visiting professor with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, said it comes as no surprise that Republicans on the state and national level are loudly complaining about Illinois’ map because state Democrats were able to draw it with no input from the minority party. “Illinois’ one of the few states where the Democrats are totally in charge,” Jackson said. “As far as aim toward brand new Republicans [in Congress,] it is certainly that, and that is fairly clear and expected.”
Jackson said that despite the results of the last Illinois congressional elections, the state’s demographics lean Democratic. “It was driven by a very, very low turnout. A very, very different electorate [came to the polls last year than those] that voted in 2008 in an election with a much larger turnout.”
He added: “Illinois ought to be competitive but leaning somewhat toward the Democrats. … I don’t see a lot of grounds in getting bent out of shape that the Democrats might come out with a slight advantage when it’s all said and done.”
Chris Mooney, a political studies professor with the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois, said Democrats used their power to draw the districts in a way that will benefit their party. However, both Jackson and Mooney agreed that the previous map, which was drawn to protect incumbents of both parties, had more sprawling and oddly shaped districts. “They did use the map to their advantage in some creative ways. But it’s actually less gerrymandered than the last one,” Mooney said.
Mooney said the redistricting process is highly partisan, and if one party is left out of the process because of the power balance of state government, it can be assumed that its members will complain and likely sue in an attempt to have the map tossed out by a court. “Yes, it is gerrymandered, but that’s just the way the game is played. … [Republicans are] basically just saying that in preparation for a lawsuit,” Mooney said. “They’ll sue, and that’s always what happens.”
And Republicans seem to have every intention of fighting the maps in court. “I hope that the courts will overturn these maps as an unfair representation of the citizens of Illinois,” Brady said.
Jackson and Mooney disagree over whether or not Illinois’ map could help turn the tide for Democrats in the U.S. House. Jackson said Republicans will likely hold onto the control they gained last year, in part because so many other state governments that have also recently drafted new congressional maps came under Republican control last year. The shifts of seats because of populations changes from the Midwest and Northeast to the West and South will also likely help Republicans. Illinois lost one of the 12 seats that will be reassigned based on new census data. “The Republicans have the clear advantage nationwide because they control so much more of the total process.” Jackson called elections that come before the once-every-10-years remap process “the one election that then echoes for a decade.”
Mooney said the House has bounced back and forth between parties in recent years, and the election is too far away to predict. “Because the balance has been so close … if they can win a couple more [seats] — boom.” Mooney added that the state of the economy next spring will probably be the biggest factor in the outcomes of the 2012 election.