With much of the U.S. population growth clustered in the Sun Belt, Illinois will lose another congressional seat, the Census Bureau announced this morning. That sets the stage for a big redistricting fight in Springfield.
Illinois' political clout in the U.S. House of Representatives was numerically clipped this morning, as the U.S. Census Bureau announced that the Land of Lincoln would lose yet another congressional seat. Starting in 2012, Illinois will control 18 seats in the House, down from the 19 representatives it was apportioned following the 2000 Census.
The news did not come as a surprise. Growth rates in Sunbelt regions of the nation's South and West continue to outstrip those seen in older states in the Great Lakes region and Northeast. The biggest gainers of congressional seats include Texas, which will send four more representatives to Washington and Florida, which will send two more; six other Sunbelt states each gained an additional seat. Here's a clip of Robert Groves, the Census Bureau director, discussing the political consequences of this year's count in Washington earlier today (apologies for the quality of the video):
Today's news sets in motion a redistricting process in Illinois that has consistently been hijacked by political considerations over the past three decades. Members of the General Assembly have the first crack at drawing the maps. But if they deadlock -- and they consistently do -- an eight-member commission is created. Here's how we described what happens next back in the summer of '09:
In 1981, 1991, and 2001 lawmakers tried to tackle redistricting as whole, but each time failed to find consensus. Instead, the legislative leaders appointed four members from both parties to an eight-member commission who then met behind closed doors to tweak the district boundaries. Not surprisingly, those negotiations came to a halt as well, with both sides proposing a map that benefited their party. This gridlock prompted what Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green dubs "the big mistake" -- a tie-breaker policy in which a ninth member of the commission is selected by lottery (as WBEZ's Sam Hudzik put it, "the secretary of state pull[s] a name out of a hat, box or whatever"). The party affiliation of that additional member essentially "sets the stage for who runs the legislature for the next 10 years," Green says.
Yes, you read that correctly -- the last member of the redistricting commission, if it's called (and historically it has been), is picked by chance. So although Democrats' continued dominance in Springfield places them in the redistricting driver's seat, it is possible that power could be lost if both sides can't reach a consensus over the new political territories. Given that Republicans could gain the upper hand at the mere flip a coin, they would presumably have every incentive to ensure the process goes down that road.
Despite the inherent limitations of drawing political maps this way, neither of the two redistricting reform plans -- one called the Illinois Fair Map drew the support of the GOP and a coalition of civic groups, the other was pushed by State Senate Democrats -- have passed. State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), meanwhile, introduced SB 3976 on December 12, a smaller-scale piece of legislation that would require four redistricting hearings around the state and install provisions to keep ethnic and cultural communities in cohesive blocs.
We'll be keeping an eye on that bill. In the meantime, other political analysts are trying to game out who loses as Illinois' congressional delegation continues to shrink.
Greg Hinz, the Crain's political columnist, thinks a downstate Republican will lose a seat. But it's likely that suburban congressional Republicans will face a difficult set of new realities as well. Combining GOP districts to force two -- or even three -- congressional Republicans to compete for their current positions in a brutal primary campaign wouldn't come as a surprise to Hinz:
[D]on't be surprised if newly elected suburban GOP congressmen like Robert Dold, Randy Hultgren and Bobby Schilling get thrown together into one district, with Democratic areas like the east end of Mr. Dold's north suburban 10th District annexed to Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky's 9th District to the south.
Lynn Sweet, of the Sun-Times, thinks GOP Reps. Joe Walsh, Bob Dold, Adam Kinzinger, and Bobby Schilling are "potentially the most vulnerable."
Hinz also pointed out that the congressional map in Chicago and suburban Cook County may be remade by the new numbers, with an immediate impact on the racial composition of the region's congressmen: "While detailed intra-state population breakdowns won't be available for at least a few weeks, insiders are suggesting that the figures may well indicate that Chicago and Cook County no longer have enough African-Americans to sustain three super-majority black districts, but enough Latinos to force creation of a second majority-Latino district."
The Swing State Project, meanwhile, has also predicted the creation of a new Latino-majority district in Chicagoland following the release of the Census data, but kept three black-majority districts in the region as well.