Illinois gains population, but loses a congressman

News-DemocratDecember 22, 2010 

The metro-east's two congressmen have little to fear from the congressional redistricting process, even though new U.S. Census Bureau data shows Illinois will lose one U.S. House seat.

Instead, the House district most likely to be split up is U.S. Rep. John Shimkus' neighbor to the north -- the 17th District recently won by Republican Bobby Schilling, according to political experts, who reacted to census figures released Tuesday. The numbers show Illinois will lose one of its 19 seats in the House.

Both U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, and Shimkus, R-Collinsville, will be affected by the redrawn district lines. However only to the extent their current districts, the 12th and 19th respectively, will be absorbing more counties and territory, said John Jackson, a retired Southern Illinois University Carbondale political science professor.

"But both of them are so senior in their parties that both of them can take care of themselves and undoubtedly will do so," said Jackson, a staff member of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

On the bubble, however, will be Schilling, a member of the GOP's conservative Tea Party wing and one of four House freshmen elected last month. Schilling defeated Rep. Phil Hare, D-Rock Island.

Cobbled together from other districts a decade ago during the last redistricting, Schilling's 17th District -- which stretches for north of Rock Island, hugs Illinois' western border and reaches into sections of Madison, Sangamon and Macon counties -- makes a logical target for the Democrat leaders to split up among other districts, including Shimkus', Jackson said.

"That makes sense because it's already a very divided and very ugly district," Jackson said.

The Census Bureau data released Tuesday shows that the United States' population grew by 9.7 percent since 2000, to almost 309 million. Meanwhile, Illinois' population rose by 3.3 percent, to 12.86 million.

A few hours after the federal government released 2010 state census data -- which indicates a population shift to the south and southwest of the United States -- Shimkus issued a press release calling for an Illinois redistricting map "that is fair and balanced" and gives Illinois residents the representation they deserve.

Shimkus said it is his hope "that the General Assembly and the governor will draw a map that is based on fairness and preserving communities of interest."

Costello released a statement Tuesday in which he stated that he had expected that Illinois would lose a House seat based on preliminary census data.

Costello said he looks forward "to working in a bipartisan way" with fellow Illinois House members, the General Assembly and Gov. Pat Quinn "on a redistricting plan that is fair and ensures that Southwestern and Southern Illinois maintain a strong voice in Congress."

Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, agreed with Jackson that the 17th District makes the most likely target for Democrats who want to redraw a Republican seat out of existence, while beefing up Democratic numbers in the Chicago suburbs.

Redfield stressed the complexity of redrawing congressional district maps -- a process that is inherently political in nature and can be fiendishly complicated to get right.

"It's like putting a puzzle together where you get to take a knife out and cut the pieces up again before you put them back there," he said.

Essentially, the Democrats drafting the new House district maps will likely seek the creation of one district competitive for Democrats, but with no incumbent, Redfield said.

"And then put two Republican incumbents in a safe Republican district and then have them fight it out in the suburbs," he said.

In 2001, the last time Illinois leaders redrew House district maps, the state had also lost a House seat. What will be notable about 2011 is it will be the first time since current redistricting laws were passed that the state has both a Democratic governor and Democratic control of both legislative chambers.

Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at mfitzgerald@bnd.com or 239-2533.

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