Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Could it someday be Miguel Madigan?

Latino activists who gathered on the Southwest Side this weekend to talk about what laws they want passed (or what bills they want ground into oblivion) got favorable words from the city’s local political establishment.
MADIGAN: He needs to consider Latinos

That even included Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, in whose legislative district the sessions were held.

HE TOLD THOSE in attendance (according to the Chicago Sun-Times) that he plans to be “fair” to Latinos when his people put together the new political boundaries for the Legislature and Congress and that there may be an Illinois version of the DREAM Act – that measure meant to do away with the bureaucratic procedures that prevent many young children of undocumented immigrants from being able to advance themselves in our society through education.

There are those political observers who are making a big deal out of Madigan’s rhetoric – citing the fact that he used to openly refuse to even talk with such activists. Now, he’s being sympathetic to their concerns.

Has Michael Madigan had a conversion experience?

I doubt it. About all that is really happening here is that Madigan is looking at political reality, and he is one of the biggest political animals amongst our local government officials.

THE FACT IS that there are significantly more Latinos in Illinois these days – just over 2 million of Illinois’ 12 million population is Latino. There are even more Latinos these days in Illinois than there are African-American people (who top out at about 1.8 million across the state).

That is why Latino activists have come out with their own statements about wanting more political representation – saying that by all rights, Latino population numbers could justify as many as 28 of the Illinois Legislature’s 177 House and Senate districts being drawn in their favor. Those activists say they’re willing to settle for 20, which is more than the 12 that have existed for the past decade.

Now some people like to point out the difficulties that exist in getting Latino voter turnout to match their share of the overall population, and use that as a reason to ignore such concerns.

But the reality is that, particularly in Chicago proper, there are many districts currently represented by white guys (including some of the most established political names like Burke, Lipinski and Madigan himself) that consist of a LARGE amount of Latino people.

SO WHEN I learn that Madigan is being sympathetic to the political concerns of Latino activists, I’d say it is not because he has some sudden sympathy for those issues. It’s about self-preservation.

He wants to keep himself in political office.

As recently as the 2010 election cycle, there was speculation that state Rep. Dan Burke, D-Chicago, in a neighboring district to Madigan, could lose because of the changing population.

Burke managed a slim win because he got the remaining non-Latino people to turn out in force to back him against a Latino challenger. But eventually, such a strategy is not going to work.

MADIGAN SURELY DOESN’T want to be the first “victim” of Latino political growth come the 2012 election cycle. So he’s not about to say something blatantly stupid to energize the growing Latino electorate into wanting to dump him from office.

Madigan isn’t alone. This is something that long-time 13th Ward Alderman Ed Burke is going to have to deal with, as will Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., just to name a couple. The fact that they’re the holders of some of the long-time names of Chicago politics won’t save them.

In fact, when I consider the possible restructuring of Illinois’ congressional districts to create a  second Latino from the state in the U.S. House of Representatives, I see that with just minimal changes, Lipinski’s district is the logical choice for conversion.

There are those people who are going to argue that it is somehow wrong to even take ethnic or racial aspects into consideration when setting political boundaries (although it always seems that their “ideal” districts wind up being represented by a batch of white guys). They may have a point that one does not have to be a Latino in order to represent Latinos in the General Assembly or Congress, since most districts wind up having a variety of people who all have to be covered by one public official.

BUT THE FACT remains that even if the incumbent white officials in these growing Latino parts of the city and suburbs manage to maintain their political posts, they are going to have to be respectful of, and sympathetic to, the portion of their constituencies that ARE Latino. If you don’t think that a Latino is entitled to a ward or district, I’d argue where is it said that a “Burke” or anyone like him is owed one either?

Lipinski as the “second” Illinois Congressman from a Latino district may find himself having to alter his attitudes (and some of the people he currently aligns himself with) if he wishes to have a political future.

Perhaps he could even take his lead from Madigan, who seems to be altering his own viewpoint to accommodate the people who he will wind up representing.

Michael Madigan as the Conferensista of the Illinois House? It may be the only way he gets to keep that precious “Speaker” title until he’s ready to voluntarily retire.


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