Proposed political map puts GOP senators in same district; Luechtefeld, McCarter may have to face off

News-DemocratMay 20, 2011 

An Illinois Senate committee Thursday released a proposed map for new political boundaries in the state.

One of the big changes is that Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, have been squeezed into one district, the 54th Senate district. If the map holds, they would have to run against each other in a primary election, unless one of them decides to retire from the Senate. Another option for Luechtefeld is that he could move from Okawville to a location somewhere in the new, reshaped 58th Senate district that Luechtefeld has represented since 1995.

"My first reaction is that I will run again," Luechtefeld said.

McCarter said: "I can't comment on what I'm going to do. I've got to still speak with Sen. Luechtefeld. I'm going to handle this with as much respect as possible, because I have great admiration for Sen. Luechtefeld."

Luechtefeld said Thursday he thinks his district was shifted in order to have a House district where Jerry Costello II, son of U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, can run for office.

"I think Jerry Costello Jr. would like to have his dad's job someday, and feels like he has to get into government," Luechtefeld said.

The congressman's spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment. Jerry Costello II did not immediately return a message left with his spokeswoman.

Luechtefeld said it's his understanding that Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville, will retire, and Jerry Costello Jr. will be appointed to the 116th House District seat or will run for the seat.

Reitz said Thursday: "I have not made any decisions or announcements on anything. We're still in session. We're focused on the items we have before us before we leave."

There also was speculation that Jerry Costello II could run for Senate in the new 58th Senate District, which would include Randolph, Perry, Jefferson and Monroe counties, and chunks of St. Clair, Washington and Jackson counties. With Luechtefeld gone, the only current senator who would reside in that district is Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon, whose current 54th District is almost entirely to the north and east of those counties. If Jones seeks re-election, he'd be in almost completely new territory.

Among the proposed map's other changes, the 57th Senate district of Sen. James Clayborne, D-Belleville, was expanded to take in Lebanon. That could make the odd-shaped 114th House District, which loops around Belleville and is represented by Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis, even more odd-shaped.

Each Senate district has two representative districts, meaning Lebanon will be represented by either Jackson or Rep. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville. Lebanon currently is represented by Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville.

In the 56th Senate District, represented by Sen. Bill Haine, D-Alton, two portions were shaved off: a section on the east side of Edwardsville and a section in the northeast, around the areas of Dorsey, Holiday Shores and Prairietown.

Legislative redistricting is done every 10 years, following the federal census, to reflect population shifts.

The redrawing of state legislative and congressional districts has major implications, often determining who will represent the citizens in the General Assembly and Congress. Critics of the process in Illinois say it essentially allows the party in power to pick their voters and draw maps that strengthen their re-election chances. This time, Democrats are in control of the Senate, House and governor's office.

By shifting the boundary lines, the map makers can group like-minded voters together or spread them thin. They can lump two incumbents from the opposing party into a new district, forcing them to run against each other. They can create districts that hold a majority of voters who lean a particular way, politically, making it easier or difficult for a candidate to run.

Over the past few weeks, Senate Democrats who are heading the process have been inviting Democratic lawmakers to view the map proposal on a large video screen in a private legislative office building. Using a computer and data from past elections, the boundary lines can be shifted on the screen and, in real-time, the numbers of Democrat and Republican voters in the district are displayed. The computer also includes census data in its crunching, showing ethnic and age make-up of each precinct.

It's not yet clear when the Illinois House will have its proposal ready for House district maps. Each Senate district has two House districts.

Democratic House and Senate members have been holding hearings around the state to get citizen input on the redistricting, a process that Luechtefeld on Thursday said was "sort of a sham, a joke -- everyone knew it."

"In the end, they were going to draw a map that would suit them politically. That's what it's all about," he said.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said the map "follows the law and it's fair."

By law, legislative districts have to be contiguous and hold roughly the same number of residents.

The Senate redistricting committee has scheduled two public hearings on its map proposal. One is 9 a.m. Tuesday in Committee Room 114 of the State Capitol in Springfield. The other is noon Saturday in Committee Room C-600 of the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.

The redistricting committee's chairman, Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said: "Today's release is part of the aggressive effort we've taken to engage the public in the redistricting process. Because of the advances and availability of web-based technology, anyone with an Internet connection can view this proposal."

Whitney Woodward of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform, which has pushed for more transparency in the remapping process, said the public needs to see the demographic data that was used to draw the map.

"It's important to have that demographic information to know what's what," Woodward said. "Right now, it's a pretty, multicolored map, but it's difficult to make sense of it without that information."

Woodward said it's good that the public has a chance to see the proposed map and comment on it before it's approved.

"This is a good step, putting this out there. A few days' notice is not ideal, but we would hope that they will continue to provide information to the public about their draft maps and consider the input they receive from individuals on Saturday and Tuesday."

The new maps have to be approved by the Senate, the House and the governor, though that's considered to be just a formality because all three branches being under Democrat control.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 239-2511.

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