Redrawing district lines a ‘brutal’ game of chairs
It could very well be called the “Art of the Screw.”
It’s a once-in-decade legislative opportunity by each state’s majority party – in this case the Illinois Democrats – to marginalize and make inconsequential the minority party by redrawing congressional and legislative district lines.
The technique is called packing, which means stuffing as many Republicans as possible into as few districts as possible. Mike Madigan was a master of this, doing so after the 2000 and 2010 census. He combined line-drawing with fund-raising and built 41-18 Senate, 73-45 House and 13-5 congressional Democratic majorities over the past decade
Madigan is gone now, but the current crowd of post-Madigan Springfield Democrats, led by speaker Chris Welch and Senate president Don Harmon, believe they can seamlessly replicate Madigan’s feat.
They are wrong.
They expect to enact a state legislative and congressional remap before their May 31 adjournment, but there are no more Republicans to be screwed (except in the U.S. House map).
In the state House map it looks like the Democrats may get swindled.
“It’s brutal,” said state Senator Robert Martwick (D-10) of the jousting and self-preserving maneuvering of the eight House Democrats who received less than 55 percent in 2020, and the four who got 55-59 percent. All of them want more Democratic precincts – but from where?
There were 11 House Republicans who got under 55 percent in 2020, but they look safe in 2022, for three reasons:
First, they have a 50 percent-plus Republican base as demonstrated in 2018 and 2020. Second, if Democrats extract some of the Democratic base from those districts to insert elsewhere to replace Republicans, then those Republicans have to be packed somewhere else.
And third, both history and the Biden-Harris Administration’s performance thus far portend 2022 as a Republican year and perhaps a “wave” year, which means a 10 percent swing – the Republican vote up 5 percent over 2020, and the Democrats’ down 5 percent.
Another factor is turnout: Republicans will be more energized than Democrats. That puts those 12 Democrats at-risk, and several Democratic senators, including Martwick, who got under 55 percent in 2018 or 2020.
The most popular place in Springfield is the “Map Room” in the Stratton Building where all the maps have already been drawn. It is manned by Democratic staffers who are holdovers from Madigan and are expert in the process.
As confirmed by my conversation with several legislators, they are called in for a 15-minute look at the map and asked for their suggestions.
As of May 18 state Representative John D’Amico (D-15) has been called in, but not yet Martwick or state Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19).
“Nobody’s called me,” sarcastically said state Representative Brad Stephens (R-20). Republicans are shutout of the process.
“What happens will happen,” said Stephens.
“My expectation is that the districts will stay pretty much as they are,” said D’Amico.
Illinois’ population was 12,830,632 in 2010, and the 2020 census pegged it at 12,812,508, a decline of just 18,124. That makes Illinois a low-growth state, much like neighboring MI and OH, but there is an ongoing trickle exodus of Illinoisans to parts south and west. Most population loss was in rural areas south of I-80; population elsewhere has stagnated, with the Chicago metro area at 8.8 million, or 2/3rds of the statewide vote.
That impacts the congressional mapmaking because Illinois now loses a seat.
After 2010, the state had a population of 712,812 in 18 districts. Now it will have753,676 in 17 districts. In 1930 Illinois had 27 districts, so it has lost 10 seats in 90 years due population growth elsewhere. That means Chicago seats will have to expand further into the suburbs, and suburban seats into rural areas.
The expectation is that Adam Kinzinger’s (R-16) seat, which wraps around the metro area from Kankakee to Rockford, will be dismembered, but that puts into jeopardy Democrats Cheri Bustos (D-17), who won 156,011-143,863 in 2020, and Lauren Underwood (D-14), who won 203,209-197,835 in 2020. Kinzinger won 218,639-119,313 in 2020, a margin close to 100,000. That’s a lot of Republican votes to dilute and/or pack.
That doesn’t much change the population of the 59 Senate districts, a number fixed in the state Constitution. Each was 217,468 after 2010, and each will be 217,161 after 2020.
But Illinois’ unique coupling system, in which each Senate district contains two contiguous House districts, complicates everything. A House Democrat who wants to unpack some Republicans to another House district, or pack in some Democrats from another district, impacts the coupled senate district. Each House district will have a population of 108,560.
For example, Martwick won re-election in 2020 53,466-45,840, getting 54 percent, a margin of 7,626. He is coupled with the 19th (LaPointe) and 20th (Stephens) House districts.
LaPointe won with 58.4 percent in 2020 and Stephens with 54.6 percent. Martwick’s district encompasses 166 precincts, taking in the 45th Ward east to Cicero and then south to Irving Park in the 38th Ward (Portage Park), plus all of the 41st Ward, a string of western suburbs, and most of northeast Park Ridge. Martwick’s dream map would be to move east of Cicero into west Albany Park and south of Irving to Addison and jettison all the Park Ridge precincts and Stephens’s base in Rosemont. That would give him a 55-60 percent district. LaPointe’s dream map would divest her of north Jefferson Park and Gladstone Park, giving it to Stephens.
But such a plan impacts other Democratic senators: Ram Villivalam (D-8) lives in Mayfair and couples with the 15th (D’Amico) and 16th (Denyse Wang Stoneback) House districts. Omar Aquino (D-2) wants to shed his 38th Ward precincts. Laura Murphy (D-28), whose district runs from west Park Ridge through Des Plaines to Schaumberg and Streamwood, doesn’t want the west end of Martwick’s district.
Public hearings have been had, jointly sponsored by the Senate and House Democrats. 2022 is a remap-year election, which means all senators (their terms are staggered 2-4-4, 4-2-4, and 4-4-2 thereafter over the decade) and representatives (with 2-year terms) are on the ballot.
In the Madigan era they could count on massive funding from the speaker. But Democrats have Governor J.B. Pritzker, who spent $171 million of his fortune to win in 2018. The 2022 election will be a referendum on him – as well as Biden-Harris – on Pritzker’s handling of COVID and the state budget, and the national economy. Pritzker will spend probably $200 million for himself and the Democratic ticket.
The Democrats’ problem is that they have too many vulnerable members clustered in contiguous districts. Terra Costa Howard (D-48), from Glen Ellyn, won with 53.8 percent. Her district is adjacent to that of Anne Stava-Murray (D-81), from Downers Grove, who won with 52.6 percent. Both were elected in the 2018 anti-Trump and anti-Rauner wave. They need more Democratic precincts. Also on the cusp are Janet Yang Rohr (D-41), from Naperville, who beat a Republican incumbent in 2020 with 51.7 percent, and Suzanne Ness (D-66), from Crystal Lake, who beat a Republican incumbent in 2020 with 51.9 percent. From the Rockford area 68th District, Democrat Dave Vella upset a Republican in 2020 with 50.2 percent, a margin of 239 votes. Also vulnerable to a 2022 wave is Grayslake’s Sam Yingling (D-62), who got 56.7 percent, and Gurnee’s Joyce Mason (D-61), who got 55.1 percent. Both are from LakeCounty.
There are a bunch of at-risk officials Downstate.
Republicans flipped two House seats in the Metro East (East St. Louis) area. Katie Stuart (D-112) of Edwardsville is sandwiched between them, and she won with 53.7 percent in 2020. Re-mappers could switch Republicans voters out of her district, and Democratic votes from the 111th and 116th districts in. A Downstate Trump wave also held Sue Scherer (D-96), of Decatur, to 51.5 percent and Lance Yednock (D-76), of Ottawa, to 54.3 percent. Both look like 2002 losers.
The question is why Democrats are stressing themselves.
In 2020 there were 50 House districts (out of 118) where Republicans fielded no candidate.
That means 50 of the 73 Democratic incumbents had no opposition – a stunning 68 percent.
Say Republicans pick up 4-8 House seats and a couple of Senate seats. The only repercussion would be that Democrats would not have a super-majority (37 in the Senate and 70 in the House) to pass legislation in any post-adjournment session. Just get done early. It takes a simple majority to pass the remap before May 31. It will be done. 2022 will reveal who got screwed.