Illinois Remap Discussed

Posted February 28, 2005 at 6:38pm

As Georgia Republicans move closer to redrawing the state’s Congressional map, national Democrats face a thicket of logistical hurdles if they attempt to follow suit in other states where Democrats control the levers of power.

Still, Illinois may offer the Democrats their best hope of seeking an element of revenge for Georgia, Texas (where Republicans successfully redrew the lines in 2003) and Colorado (where a 2003 re-redistricting was thrown out in court).

House Democratic leaders, led by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), have reached out to party officials in the three states about redrawing the Congressional lines, and in Illinois at least, the governor and legislative leaders discussed the possibility last week. Governors in two of the three states — Rod Blagojevich in Illinois and Bill Richardson in New Mexico — are former Democratic House Members.

In Illinois, state Democrats have had recent discussions about revisiting the map before the legislative session ends on May 27.

The state government was divided in 2001 when the current Congressional lines were drawn. The map was a bipartisan agreement brokered by Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) and then-Rep. Bill Lipinski (D).

Today, Democrats control the state House and Senate and hold all but one statewide office. The Congressional delegation has an almost even partisan split — 10 Democrats and nine Republicans — which Democrats say is not an accurate reflection of a state that has voted overwhelmingly for Democrats in the past two presidential elections. Republicans held a one-seat advantage until Rep. Melissa Bean’s (D) victory last year.

State Senate Judiciary Chairman John Cullerton (D), whose committee has jurisdiction over redistricting, said Monday that there has been recent discussion of redrawing lines in light of the developments in other states.

“We didn’t start this,” he said. “In the file I have are all quotes from [House Majority Leader] Tom DeLay [R-Texas] and they all say how the maps should reflect the political makeup of the state. Pennsylvania sure doesn’t reflect that makeup, and neither does Illinois.”

Cullerton predicted that a remap in Illinois might produce a one- or two-seat gain for Democrats. He threw out the idea of making GOP Rep. John Shimkus’ downstate district more competitive, in addition to helping solidify Bean’s GOP-leaning district. Shimkus recently said he will retire in 2008.

Cullerton also made it clear that Democrats would not harm Hastert if they moved forward with redistricting. “If we did it, number one, I wouldn’t change one precinct in Denny Hastert’s district,” Cullerton said. “We like Denny Hastert to be the Republican leader in Congress. … We just want him to be the Minority Leader, not the Speaker.”

Steve Brown, a spokesman for state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D), said state Senate Minority Leader Frank Watson (R) inquired about the seriousness of a mid-decade redistricting in a meeting with Blagojevich (D) and the state’s four legislative leaders last week.

“He was concerned, and I think the Speaker related to him that he had heard from Congressman Rahm Emanuel [D] that the Illinois Congressional delegation is quite upset about what’s going on in Georgia,” Brown said. “So it’s sort of check, checkmate at the moment.”

This isn’t the first time Illinois has reconsidered Congressional districts in response to a re-redistricting effort elsewhere.

In November 2003, after the DeLay-led redraw in Texas, Illinois Senate President Emil Jones (D) introduced what Cullerton described as a “shell bill” — a piece of legislation that demonstrated their interest in redrawing Congressional boundaries but left space for details to be filled in later.

That bill was titled the Illinois Congressional Reapportionment Act of 2003, and it contained four vague paragraphs. But the legislation did not have similar backing in the House, where Madigan, who also serves as chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, opposed the redistricting effort. There were also indications at the time that Lipinski was not in favor of the move.

However, Lipinski retired last year and Emanuel, who chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is now considered the delegation’s most influential player in deciding whether to push for a new map.

DCCC spokesman Greg Speed said Emanual had no comment on the potential redistricting effort in his home state.

Unlike in Georgia, where state lawmakers put a new map on a fast track due to the Legislature’s tight time constraints, Illinois Democrats have almost three more months to contemplate redistricting. Cullerton estimated that a new map could be drawn is as little as two days.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard (R), co-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, acknowledged the ruling party’s ability to redraw lines but said he thinks it’s unlikely that Democrats will do so.

Aside from the fact that the current map is the product of bipartisan negotiation, Dillard asserted that state Republicans have the biggest weapon in their arsenal — the one that ultimately controls the purse strings.

“My guess is it might be a different animal if we didn’t have the United States Speaker of the House, who [Chicago] Mayor [Richard] Daley and Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. [D] desperately need for some things, as does Gov. Blagojevich,” Dillard said. “He’s the ultimate trump card.”

Meanwhile, in Louisiana, which has trended Republican in recent federal elections, Democrats retook control of the governor’s mansion in November 2003 and have strong majorities in the state House and Senate.

Louisiana’s legislative session opens April 25. It is the short session of the Legislature’s two-year cycle, lasting 60 calendar days and 45 legislative days. As a result, the Legislature must adjourn June 23.

It is also a limited fiscal session, meaning that the focus is on budgetary and financial matters. Each legislator is limited to introducing only five bills not directly related to fiscal matters.

As of this writing, none of the pre-filed bills in either the House or the Senate deals with Congressional redistricting.

National Democrats are eager to reshape the northern Louisiana 5th district of party- switching Rep. Rodney Alexander (R) and could also tweak the seats held by Reps. Jim McCrery (R) and Charles Boustany (R).

The future of such an effort, however, remains muddled.

“In this kind of atmosphere I don’t see that happening,” predicted Brenda Hodge, a spokeswoman for state Senate President Donald Hines (D).

Hodge said that most legislators have “other fish to fry” in the session — especially given the limitations on bills.

“If they only have five bills, they want to take care of things their constituents are really hot on,” she added.

But Glenn Koepp, the secretary of the Louisiana Senate, was significantly more optimistic.

“Only one Member has to use one of his five to have a Congressional bill,” Koepp pointed out.

He added that because Louisiana is a Voting Rights Act state, meaning any changes to the lines would need to be approved by the Justice Department, unless a bill is passed in this session it is very unlikely to go into effect for the 2006 elections.

Another complicating factor in Louisiana is the decided lack of partisanship in state politics.

Although the two highest leadership positions in the Senate are held by Democrats, several Republicans chair key committees.

“We are somewhat unique,” said Koepp. “Party doesn’t play a big, big part. Seniority plays a much bigger part.”

Given that environment, a Congressional re-redistricting effort urged on by national Democrats and largely aimed at Alexander, himself a former state legislator, might not find widespread support in Baton Rouge.

In New Mexico, the bill introduction deadline has already passed in the current legislative session, which adjourns March 19. That means that redistricting would have to come up in a special session, and those can only be called by the governor.

Even though he was a partisan brawler in Congress, Richardson has so far resisted suggestions that the state redraw its Congressional lines. Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for Richardson, and Tom Garrity, a spokesman for Senate Democratic leaders, said they were unaware of any recent discussions on redistricting.

Josh Kurtz contributed to this report.