Saturday, May 28, 2011

Somebody took the GOP’s “binky”

I have a hard time maintaining a straight face these days whenever I hear Republican political officials rant and rage about how the General Assembly is preparing political boundaries for the upcoming decade that will screw them up big time.

They happen to be correct. By some observers’ counts, only four members of Congress from Illinois of the GOP persuasion are safe, and the boundaries prepared for the state Legislature definitely will cause many suburban residents to be represented by city legislators (along with many outer suburban people having to turn to Cook County for their political representation).

YET I STILL remember the redistricting process that occurred back in 1991 and that set the boundaries for the 1990s. That was the one time Republican officials managed to win control of the process – and they took full advantage of it.

For two years in that decade, the GOP had control of everything in state government. For the rest of the 1990s, the state was Republican-leaning, with then-Senate President James “Pate” Philip in particular using his authority to make sure Democratic legislators knew their place.

In short, I don’t see that they handled things any more nobly than the current Democratic Party officials are handling things this time.

When I hear Republican legislators complain (“an insult to the state’s voters,” were the words of state GOP Chairman Pat Brady), I can’t help but think what really bothers them is that they aren’t the ones getting to strong-arm the opposition.

BECAUSE I AM convinced that if, this time around, there was some Republican influence in the political map-making process, they’d be behaving in the same manner.

When it comes to drawing political boundaries, there is no noble behavior. Anybody who claims they would do so is lying!

One of the points being brought up by Republican-types is that there was next to no time for review of the legislative maps that were voted on Friday by the Illinois House of Representatives AND the state Senate. (Surprise, surprise! They got a votes of 64-52 and 35-22, purely on politically partisan lines).

Hearings were held in recent months to let people express their views, but actual maps didn’t come forward until about one week ago. Even then, those boundaries were altered in the past few days.

“YOU SAID TO the public, ‘here’s your chance, take it or leave it,’ and we’re gonna ram it out whether you like it or not,” state Rep. Roger Eddy, R-Hutsonville, said during the legislative debate on Friday.

Give that man a Binky-brand pacifier, along with all the other legislators who dare to make a similar complaint. Because I don’t recall the GOP back in ’91 behaving any differently.

There might have been a late-afternoon release of maps, with the final vote that made them official coming the next morning. Which means a few political obsessives may have had a chance to review them. The majority of us had no clue until it was a done deal. We didn’t have anything resembling those “Google Earth” maps that exist this time around.

There even are complaints about the large number of incumbent Republicans who have to run against each other, if they wish to remain in electoral office. Among those are state Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, and freshman U.S. Rep. Bob Dold, R-Ill.

THE LATTER, WHO had hoped to be a long-time replacement for Mark Kirk representing the North Shore in Congress, is going to have to take on Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., in a district that most definitely leans her way.
DOLD: The new Marty Russo?

Sorry Bob, but that’s the way electoral politics goes at times. Don’t forget the wise (and truthful) words of Finley Peter Dunne’s “Mr. Dooley” – “Politics ain’t beanbag.”

Or have GOP-types forgotten the 1990s congressional map that brought an end to the nearly two-decade-long stint of Marty Russo – forcing him to run unsuccessfully in 1992 against then-Rep. William Lipinski (whose own son, Dan, got a congressional district out of this new map that protects his interests – even though his own voting record often screws up the desires of Democratic Party leadership).

So what should we think of these new boundaries – which still need the approval of Gov. Pat Quinn before they can become official? I don’t know that I want to go as far as Illinois House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, D-Chicago, who said to reporter-types at the Statehouse, “I think this has been the most transparent, most accountable, most open redistricting process in the history of the state of Illinois, and I’d put it right up against any other state.”

IT DOES MAINTAIN roughly the same number of districts for African-American people – even though the official black population of Chicago declined by about 200,000, and the Latino population across Illinois now outnumbers the total of black people by about 200,000.

It does provide for a few districts where an Asian ethnic majority could result in the first Indian-American or Chinese-American being elected during this decade; which when you think about it is a long-overdue feat.

It even provides for more Latino-majority legislative districts, although some of those will have to have particularly strong Latino voter turnouts to overcome the Anglo voters who likely will act as a bloc to keep “one of our own” in charge.

I base that presumption off another memory from the ’91 reapportionment, where Republican officials argued they were protecting African-American voters by drawing their districts in Chicago first, then crafting the rest of the map around it.

YET I REMEMBER that those districts didn’t do much for respecting the actual communities that existed in the city; and in some cases pitted city voters in ways meant to stir up discontent. Which meant there were cases where a district that technically was a “black” district wound up falling into the hands of a non-African-American legislator.

Think I’m kidding. Take our current county sheriff.

Tom Dart served over a decade in the Illinois House representing such a district on the far South Side. He got elected in 1992 (the first year of that GOP-drawn map) by being the lone white guy running against a half-dozen black would-be legislators who split up the vote sufficiently for Dart to win. The benefits of incumbency kept him in power thereafter.

I can’t help but think that Republican leadership, if they had been given control of the redistricting process this time around, would have tried similar tactics to reign in the growing ethnic populations that comprise the bulk of our city and metropolitan area.


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