Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Loss of IL Congressional seat likely to hurt state GOP more than Democrats

Illinois' Congressional Republicans are likely to shoulder the brunt of the impact of newly released Census figures -- which confirmed that Illinois is a loser, at least in terms of seats in Congress -- in 2012, thanks to Illinois' malformed redistricting process.

The population data released by the U.S. Census bureau Tuesday serves as the basis for reapportionment, where states gain or lose Congressional districts -- and as a result, pull in D.C. -- to accommodate for population shifts and to uphold the principle of "one person, one vote."

This new 2010 headcount showed that although the number of Illinoisans have increased since the last Census 10 years ago, there have been greater gains made by other states.

As a result, the Land of Lincoln will lose one of its current 19 Congressional districts; come the next general election in 2012, there will be 18 elections for U.S. Representative from Illinois.

But Democrats can -- and are expected -- to use population data, skilled mapmakers, and political voting data to draw a new Congressional map which will minimize the GOP's chances of winning election in as many of those 18 districts as possible.

That's because Illinois gives the General Assembly the power to create and approve the Congressional districts, subject to the approval of the governor, just as with other laws. (The congressional redistricting process is created by state law, and does not follow the same process as the state legislative redistricting process.)

While at first glance, that may suggest there's some desired independence between the map-drawers and Congressional incumbents/candidates, there is not much in practice.

Both chambers Illinois General Assembly are currently controlled by Democrats, who can use their power to increase their party's likelihood of electoral success by strategically lumping voters into districts to minimize the number of seats Republicans will be able to win.

Equally troubling is that in the past -- notably, the 2001 redistricting cycle, where Illinois again was faced with the loss of a Congressional seat -- Illinois' delegation has played a "hands on" role in developing the districts in which many would go on to run. Back then, Democrat Rep. David Phelps was assigned the short stick by the other members of the Illinois delegation, as he was re-drawn into a district composed primarily of voters who leaned Republican and which he had never represented (but where incumbent GOP Rep. John Shimkus had). Phelps lost the election.

An Associated Press story earlier this week noted that State Sen. Kwame Raoul, the chairman of the Illinois Senate's Redistricting Committee, believes that the General Assembly is not inclined to defer to the Congressional delegation this time around ... or at least there's no such plan currently.

But while that's far from a guarantee that the Congressional delegation will not play a significant role in the process, there's also no guarantee that the General Assembly won't play political games with the new Congressional map.

The confirmed loss of one Illinois Congressional seat Tuesday only drives home the need for transparency and public involvement in the redistricting process.

We hope that just as Democratic leaders in the General Assembly have voiced support for such opportunities in their district-drawing process, they would recognize the need for such opportunities at the Congressional level and follow through.

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