Monday, December 13, 2010

Redistricting will bring out the politicking in Illinois’ government officials

We’re still several months away from that date in which the Illinois General Assembly will suddenly, and with as little public speculation as possible, approve new political boundaries for both the state Legislature and Congress.

No matter what else gets discussed at the Statehouse in Springpatch this spring, the key issue will be redistricting – that once-a-decade redrawing of the political boundaries for the General Assembly and Illinois congressional delegation to reflect changes in population that have occurred during the past 10 years.

THIS YEAR IS going to be a little bit different than the past three times Illinois has gone through the process. Because we have a state Legislature controlled by Democratic leaders, a Democratic partisan as governor and a state Supreme Court that has a Democrat-leaning membership (and may still be miffed at the politicking the GOP tried unsuccessfully to do in the last election to change that political breakdown), it should be a case where Democratic Party partisans will control the process.

It is highly unlikely we will have to resort to the redistricting lottery called for in the Illinois Constitution to break a tie. There won’t be any random luck of the draw. No picking a political party out of a hat (or a glass bowl) that once belonged to Abraham Lincoln.

So what are the political boundaries going to look like? We won’t know for sure until late May. But I do expect the 2010 election cycle will be a major factor – particularly for the state Legislature districts.

Last month’s election cycle is the one that’s going into the Illinois history books as the one where Democratic Party partisans maintained significant influence because of a strong Cook County vote.

REPUBLICAN PARTY PARTISANS from the rest of the state who had dreams of taking over the state government learned once and for all how irrelevant they can be, whenever Cook County-types put their mind to an election cycle.

So as people approach the areas where Cook County interacts with the surrounding outer-suburb collar counties (DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will, to be exact), we’re going to see a lot of districts that cross the county line.

But that interaction will be done in ways to ensure that the balance of people (and of potential power) is in Cook County.

If anything, there will be many more legislators during the next decade like state Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields. She is a life-long south suburban Cook resident who represents a district that stretches south into Will and Kankakee counties.

THE SAME REPUBLICAN mindset that managed to take four congressional seats last month also tried to dump Hutchinson on the grounds that she was too-Chicago-area to cover a district, and her Republican opponent from near Peotone tried to emphasize downstate Illinois roots.

It didn’t work because there was too much Cook County in that district (the Illinois Senate 40th, to be exact) for the GOP appeal to work.

There will be more districts created just like hers. Districts represented by officials who, no matter how much lip service they pay to representing all parts of their area, are Cook residents who have that urban focus.

As far as the congressional districts are concerned, the key factor is that Illinois is likely to lose one representative – even though the overall population has remained stable. The problem is that it isn’t growing, and rural parts of the state are shrinking significantly.

SO YES, MY guess is that one of the central Illinois congressional districts that usually sends a Republican to Capitol Hill will wind up being drawn out of existence. Just a guess – Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., who 14 years ago pledged to serve no longer than 10 years in Congress – could find himself getting squeezed.

But the spin we’re likely to get from Democrats is that there is potential for a city “loss” too.

The fact is that the Latino population has increased significantly enough in Illinois that the state should probably now have two districts that create a realistic chance to elect a Latino to Congress. For all the people who claim the current Latino district looks ridiculous with that little strip connecting two separate areas, it would mean growing each of those areas into a separate district.

A Puerto Rican-influenced district to the north (that Rep. Luis Gutierrez, D-Ill.) would continue to represent, with a district to the south that likely would be represented by someone of Mexican-American ethnic origins – or someone sympathetic to them.

SOMEHOW, I WONDER if it is bound to be Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., who will have his district redone in a way that he had better follow the lead of state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, who has gone so far as to join the Latino Caucus in Springfield to try to look out for the many Latinos living in his legislative district.

Or else, Lipinski – one of the two Illinois Democrats who voted last week against the DREAM Act measure that party leadership (and Illinois’ favorite-son president) was fully supportive of – is going to be the city member of Congress who gets dumped.


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