'Politicians need to get real here': Redistricting plan pits Stephens against Cavaletto

News-DemocratMay 21, 2011 

An Illinois House committee's proposed map for House districts puts Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville, and Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, into one district.

And if you've ever considered running for the Illinois House, now might be your chance: The proposed map also draws up a new 108th House District in the metro-east which currently has no state representatives residing in it.

That new 108th District starts on the east sides of Glen Carbon and Edwardsville, then stretches southeast to encompass Troy, Highland, Trenton, Breese, Carlyle, Okawville, Hoyleton and Nashville.

When asked where he'd run against Cavaletto in a primary, Stephens said: "I haven't even considered that. My first concern is to look at the fairness of the map for the voters, and then decide whether I want to vote for or against the map."

Stephens currently represents the 102nd District, which stretches across the Lebanon, Highland, Greenville, Vandalia and Effingham areas.

Cavaletto currently represents the 107th District, which covers an eastern portion of Clinton County, as well as the Salem, Centralia and Mount Vernon areas.

If both Stephens and Cavaletto seek re-election, they'd have to square off in a primary election. Or, one of them could run in an area that's in his old district, but he'd have to move there. Much of the new 108th District -- the one that currently has no representatives residing in it -- has been represented by Stephens in the past, under prior maps. Stephens resided in Highland at the time.

Cavaletto was not available for comment.

"The issue for me is, do the people I currently represent become part of a fair map?" Stephens said. "This time of year, many politicians are saying, 'What's in it for me?' Politicians need to get real here. It's not about individual politicians, it's about whether the people who live here have a chance at fair representation and a fair election."

The shapes of the metro-east's other state representatives don't appear to have any drastic changes: Reps. Tom Holbrook, D-Belleville (113); Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis (114); Rep. Dan Reitz, D-Steeleville; Dwight Kay (116), R-Glen Carbon (112); and Dan Beiser, D-Alton (111).

Jackson's district, a U-shaped swath that starts in East St. Louis, runs below Belleville and then loops up toward Lebanon, was stretched at its northeast corner to encompass Lebanon.

The reshaping of Illinois Senate, House and congressional districts is done every 10 years, following the federal census, to reflect shifts in population. It's a highly political process that determines which voters vote in which districts.

The process can be manipulated -- quite efficiently with the help of computers and data from the census and prior elections -- to concentrate or split up voting blocs, thereby strengthening or weakening the bloc's votes. The process also can put incumbents in unfamiliar districts or more favorable districts, or it can lump officeholders from the opposing party into one district, forcing them to run against each other.

With redistricting in Illinois, there are always claims of political gerrymandering -- drawing maps that favor the party in power. The maps have to be approved by the House, Senate and governor, meaning Democrats are in the driver's seat this time because they control all three branches. The maps are expected to be approved prior to the General Assembly's adjournment at the end of the month. After that, passage would require a supermajority vote -- and help from Republicans.

The Senate released its proposed new map Thursday. It lumps Sen. Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, and Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, into one district. If they both seek re-election, they'll have to run against each other in a primary in their new district, or one of them could move into his former district and run there.

The proposed congressional district map has not yet been released. The congressional districts will have to be reshuffled to reflect Illinois' loss of one congressional seat due to population loss.

By law, districts have to be contiguous and compact. A federal law also prohibits the diluting of minority voting strength.

When asked Friday if he thinks the remapping process has been fair and transparent, Gov. Pat Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, said upcoming public hearings on the maps will give "an opportunity for people across Illinois" to give input.

The public hearings on the proposed state Senate and House maps are scheduled as follows:

* Joint hearing on both the Senate and House maps at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Committee Room 114 of the State Capitol in Springfield.

* Hearing on Senate map at noon today in Committee Room C-600 of the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.

* Hearing on House map at 2 p.m. Sunday in Committee Room C-600 of the Michael A. Bilandic Building in Chicago.

Contact reporter Brian Brueggemann at bbrueggemann@bnd.com or 692-9481.

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