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Redistricting Advantage in Illinois Keeps Democrats in Play

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Republicans’ 2010 victories in President Barack Obama’s home state of Illinois may not be enough to stave off redistricting problems for the GOP in 2012.

The defeats of Democratic Reps. Melissa Bean, Bill Foster, Debbie Halvorson and Phil Hare will limit Democratic-held seats to the Chicago area in the 112th Congress, with the exception of Democrat Jerry Costello in the southwestern corner of the state. But Democrats held the majority in both chambers of the state Legislature, giving the party the upper hand in redistricting.

At least one of the ousted Democrats will be watching how state lawmakers redraw the district lines as he weighs another run for Congress.

Hare said he would make a decision about whether to run by late spring. He represented one of the most gerrymandered districts in the country, a squiggle on the map designed to send a Democrat to Congress, but he lost this month to Republican Bobby Schilling, a pizzeria owner and first-time candidate.

“My guess is with [Republican Rep. Don] Manzullo having to lose population and the former Halvorson and Foster districts having to lose population, there’s some very good territory,” he said. Hare said he would want to represent the Quad Cities again and wouldn’t shy away from a rematch with Schilling.

Democrats also controlled the state Legislature during redistricting following the 2000 census, but the advantage didn’t cut into the GOP Congressional delegation’s numbers in the 2002 elections. In fact, Illinois lost a seat in the reapportionment, and it was a Democratic-held district that was eliminated. The Democrat, two-term Rep. David Phelps, then lost a race against Republican Rep. John Shimkus, and the Illinois House delegation went from 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats to 10 Republicans and nine Democrats.

Illinois is expected to lose another seat to reapportionment after the 2010 census, and Pat Brady, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, said he expects Springfield Democrats to draw a partisan map without much Republican input this time around. “They’ll shove this thing right down our throats, and they’ll put a smile on while they do it, and we understand that,” he said.

It’s a charge Democratic state Sen. Kwame Raoul denies. Raoul, who represents a strip of Chicago’s lakefront, chairs the Senate Redistricting Committee and will likely retain that job in the next legislative session.

“Having won both chambers and the governor’s race, we could say, ‘Oh well, to hell with transparency’ and so forth, but that’s not what we’re doing,” he said. “That’s not what we were elected to do.”

Efforts were made in 2010 to change Illinois’ redistricting process, but they fell short. Both Democrats and Republicans offered variations on creating an independent commission to draw the lines, subject to the state Legislature’s approval. The concept stalled over disagreements about how to form the commission and who should be on it, among other problems.

Nonetheless, Raoul said his committee would do its best to respect the spirit of that conversation, even as it continues to push for changes to the process in future rounds of redistricting.

His Republican counterpart, state Sen. Dale Righter of Mattoon, said he would watch for progress on that front. “I think it’s important for the public to insist that the majority put actions behind the rhetoric,” Righter said, citing public interest groups in Illinois that have pushed for redistricting changes.

Brady credited strong GOP candidates and campaign coordination at the state and national level for Republican gains in 2010, and he hopes for a repeat in 2012. “I think particularly at the Congressional level we had such outstanding candidates that I think that’s going to bode well for us,” he said.

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