SPRINGFIELD — With just enough votes to spare, Illinois lawmakers early Friday morning approved a gerrymandered redistricting proposal that, with Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s expected sign-off, will set the state’s congressional map for the next decade.
The new boundaries have significant consequences for downstate Illinois, which was mostly carved into five districts — three safe Republican seats and two designed to elect Democrats — that placed four of the state’s five Republican members of Congress into districts with another incumbent.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channhon, one of 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, announced that he would not seek reelection, forgoing a primary against fellow incumbent Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap, in a rural district that jigsaws from the Wisconsin border to just south of Bloomington-Normal.
Here’s your congressional map for the next ten years, Illinois.— Brenden Moore (@brendenmoore13) October 29, 2021
It’s a blatant Democratic gerrymander that helps the party offset brazen GOP gerrymanders in other states. IL Republicans have likely been marginalized to just three of the state’s 17 congressional seats. #twill https://t.co/uUtXvmCGde pic.twitter.com/AdNFYCj5qW
“I cannot focus on both a reelection to Congress and a broader fight nationwide,” Kinzinger said in a video released Friday morning. “I want to make it clear — this isn’t the end of my political future, but the beginning.”
An hour later, LaHood, a Trump supporter, announced he was running for reelection.
Later in the day, Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said he would run for reelection in a district that includes almost everything south of Interstate 70 in Southern Illinois.
Rep. Mary Miller, R-Oakland, a conservative firebrand, also lives in the district, but did not immediately disclose her intentions. She could opt to run in the nearby 15th district, a largely rural Central Illinois district stretches from Iowa to Indiana, picking up outlying areas of Springfield and Decatur and several mid-size towns in between.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, lives in the new 15th, but has also mulled running for governor against incumbent Pritzker depending on how the map shook out. On Friday, Davis was mum on his political future.
“Rodney will make a formal announcement on his 2022 plans once the Governor signs the redistricting legislation into law,” said Davis campaign spokesman Aaron DeGroot.
14 Democrats, 3 Republicans
The political chaos was largely set in motion by state legislative Democrats, who approved a map that divides the state in a way that maximizes the party’s partisan advantage.
The proposal would likely result in electing a congressional delegation with 14 Democrats and three Republicans, up from the current 13-5 split. The state lost a congressional seat after the 2020 U.S. Census.
Map drawers took advantage of Democratic gains in the Chicago suburbs as well as declining population in downstate Illinois, the most-heavily Republican region of the state.
“There are three districts in Illinois where a Democrat would not have the chance at all,” said Frank Calabrese, a political consultant who specializes in Illinois redistricting. “So the 16th, 15th and 12th districts are extremely Republican and Democrats are not going to be trying to compete in those districts.”
These heavy Republican districts take up most of the rural swaths of downstate Illinois. By the same token, two oddly-shaped districts were drawn to connect the region’s Democratic-leaning urban areas.
In Central Illinois, the new 13th district stretches from the Metro East region near St. Louis to Champaign-Urbana, picking up the urban cores Springfield and Decatur in between. President Joe Biden carried the string bean-shaped district by 11 points in 2020.
And the new 17th district takes a C-shape, winding from Rockford to the Quad Cities and down to Peoria and most of Bloomington-Normal, picking up several smaller college and industry towns in between. It goes from a district that voted for Trump twice to one that voted for Biden by eight points.
“Downstate Illinois is largely Republican, but you have these cities — mid-sized cities where we're talking about 100,000 to 200,000 people — that have Democratic parts to it because they're college towns, because they have minorities, etc.,” Calabrese said. “So, basically, Democrats tried to connect as many of these mid-size cities as possible.”
'Not number one to anybody'
Still, not all cities were kept intact. In Decatur, for instance, the urban core is in the Democratic-leaning 13th district while areas south and west are in the 15th district.
In some neighborhoods on the city's west side, neighbors who live across the street from one another are in different districts.
Decatur Mayor Julie Moore Wolfe lamented that being carved into two districts could lead to the city not receiving the attention it deserves.
"You're not number one to anybody," Moore Wolfe said. "People don't even really understand who their congressman is when it's that chopped up. So it's a disservice to the people of Macon County, it's a disservice to the people of Illinois."
In Bloomington-Normal, there is a similar situation, with the new Democratic-leaning 17th district grabbing most of the urban core, including Illinois State University, but the GOP-leaning 16th district getting most of the Twin Cities' western outskirts and some of Normal's northwest side.
This is a theme — downstate urban centers included in narrowly-drawn districts that connect to other urban centers while outerlying areas in each region are included in rural districts that take up the space surrounding those cities.
There are also some urban districts that start in Chicago or the suburbs and extend downstate. Most prominently, the 2nd district, held by Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Matteson, stretches from 43rd Street on the South Side of Chicago to downstate Danville.
"It's almost a kind of civics book case in how not to draw fair maps," said John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. "I mean, some of the districts are almost cartoonish in their complexity and their meandering flow."
The Princeton Gerrymandering Project, a non-partisan group that seeks to eliminate gerrymandering, has given Democrats' map an "F" grade for partisan fairness.
"Every decade, redrawing the maps is a hugely-charged, very political issue," Shaw said. "This year, I think it has been especially true, in part because so many of the national Democrats have been keeping a very close eye on the state."
A product of 'creative cartography'
Indeed, there was significant pressure on Springfield Democrats from the national party to maximize opportunities in Illinois, one of the few states where the party has complete control of the redistricting process.
Democrats have a fragile majority in the U.S. House and with Republicans controlling redistricting in several key states like Texas and Florida, "the prospect of increasing the Democratic majority by aggressive and creative cartography" in Illinois was enticing for national Democrats, Shaw said.
As a consequence, downstate Illinois has been cut into oddly-shaped pieces.
Up in the Chicago area, Democrats drew a second district designed to elect a Latino. The district, which is about 47% Latino, stretches from the Northwest Side of Chicago to the western suburbs.
State lawmakers had long packed Latino communities on Chicago’s Northwest and Southwest sides into one hyper-minority district.
The Southwest Side-based 4th district remains Latino majority and contains the homes of incumbent Reps. Chuy Garcia, D-Chicago, and Marie Newman, D-La Grange.
Newman has already announced her intention to run in the nearby 6th district, which includes southwest suburban Cook County and parts of DuPage County, against incumbent Rep. Sean Casten, D-Downers Grove.
Newman was drawn into the district under a previous proposal but was taken out in part to appease Casten.
All other Democratic incumbents were drawn into safe districts. But the 17th district, represented by the retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, could go Republican in a wave year, Calabrese said.
Moore Wolfe, for what it's worth, is trying to make the best of what she considers a disappointing map.
"It looks like one of the districts that will be ours will be a strong Republican district and it looks like the other will be a strong Democratic district," Moore Wolfe said. "And that can work in our favor depending on who's in the White House and who's leading the House of Representatives."
"So I'm going to try and make the best of this," she said. "We will work to make sure whoever is in both of these congressional districts understand what is important to the people of this community. But it is frustrating."
Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the name of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.