Illinois Dems squeeze GOP congressional districts

AP News
Posted: May 27, 2011 7:25 PM
Illinois Dems squeeze GOP congressional districts

Republicans rejoiced in November after picking up a handful of Democratic congressional districts in President Barack Obama's home state. Now Democrats are getting their revenge, proposing a new map of Illinois districts that could erase the GOP gains.

The GOP scrambled Friday to decipher the proposed map that lumps at least four freshman Republicans and one veteran into districts where they would have to run against other incumbents for the next election.

Illinois must adopt a congressional map with 18, instead of 19, U.S. House seats because the latest census showed slowing population growth _ and Democrats are in charge of the process because they control the state Legislature and governor's office.

"This proposal appears to be little more than an attempt to undo the results of the elections held just six months ago and we will take whatever steps necessary to achieve a map that more fairly represents the people of Illinois," the GOP members of Illinois' congressional delegation said in a joint statement.

Freshman Congressman Adam Kinzinger was drawn into a district with entrenched Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., and freshman Rep. Robert Dold was drawn in with longtime Democratic Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Freshmen Congressmen Joe Walsh and Randy Hultgren were lumped together. And veteran GOP Rep. Judy Biggert was paired with Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley.

The new map would force many of the Republicans to compete in primaries, contend in Democrat-friendly districts or find another district to run in to try to keep a seat in Congress. The map includes two open districts where it appears no current member of Congress lives.

The GOP's gains in Illinois last year were part of a national surge that helped Republicans take control of the U.S. House. After Republicans took four seats away from Illinois Democrats and held on to U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's old House seat, the state's freshman Republican class posed for group pictures and touted plans to shake things up in Washington.

The proposed map, which lawmakers are rushing to approve before Tuesday's scheduled end of the legislative session, could put a damper on things for the GOP.

"Kinzinger could never win the district he's been drawn into," said Brian Gaines, a political science professor at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois.

Gaines said the district stretching from Chicago's South Side to its southern suburbs would grow on the new map but remain largely comprised of voters who have repeatedly elected Jackson, who this week was called as a defense witness at former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich's corruption retrial.

"The congressman is looking forward to representing his new constituents in Will County and Kankakee County," Jackson's chief of staff Rick Bryant said Friday when asked for comment about the proposed congressional districts.

Dold, who won Kirk's old seat in the House, seemed undeterred by prospect of competing against a popular incumbent in Chicago's Democrat-leaning northern suburbs.

"I intend to continue to work tirelessly for my constituents and to be a member of Congress until that work is done," Dold said in a statement.

Freshman GOP Rep. Bobby Schilling, who defeated a two-term Democrat in the western part of the state, would lose the southern part of his district, said Western Illinois University political science professor Janna Deitz.

"For the next campaign, instead of touting his conservative voting record he may have to defend it to voters in a district that is more favorable to Democrats," Deitz said.

Illinois lawmakers on Friday approved new state House and Senate districts designed to also make it harder for Republicans to gain legislative seats. The legislation now goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

Republicans complained that vote came less than a day after the final version of the new districts was made public and questioned whether the districts do enough to protect black and Latino voters.

Democrats countered that the new legislative districts are fair and follow voting-rights laws. But they acknowledged politics played a part in where they set the boundaries.


Associated Press writer Christopher Wills contributed to this report.


Deanna Bellandi can be reached at: Christopher Wills can be reached at: