Carving up the county: Democrats' map plan could hurt Shimkus

News-DemocratMay 28, 2011 

John Shimkus, left, and Jerry Costello

BND

A proposal for new boundaries for congressional districts in Illinois puts U.S. Rep. John Shimkus' Collinsville home in a district that has almost nothing in common with his current district.

The map proposed by Illinois Senate Democrats also carves up Madison County into three different congressional districts.

Under the existing boundaries, Madison County is almost entirely in two congressional districts: the 19th, represented by Shimkus, and the 12th, represented by U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville. The existing map also has a northern sliver of Madison County in the 17th District, represented by Rep. Robert "Bobby" Schilling, R-Rock Island.

The proposed map splits Madison County into three main chunks: a 12th District swath on the west, a 13th District swath in the middle and a 15th District swath on the east.

Under the proposed congressional map:

* Costello's 12th District appears largely unchanged in the metro-east, but its northeastern corner is expanded to take in Mount Vernon and the rest of Jefferson County.

* The 13th District would contain the section that runs through the middle of Madison County, then extend north and east to Bloomington and Champaign. With the proposed map, that's the district in which Shimkus' home is located. The proposed 13th district would include a lot of unfamiliar political territory for Shimkus, whose current district, the 19th, covers the eastern half of Madison County and much of southeastern Illinois.

* The 15th District takes in the eastern portion of Madison County, then fans out across all of southeastern Illinois. It would cover a majority of Shimkus' current district -- but not the portion of Madison County where he lives.

Redrawing of congressional districts is done every 10 years, after the federal census, to reflect population changes. Because of its population, Illinois is losing one of its 19 congressional seats. Only 18 congressmen from Illinois will be elected in 2012.

The new map drew fire from Republicans, who took four of the state's U.S. House seats from Democrats in the 2010 election.

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

Illinois sent five freshmen Republican congressman to Washington after last year's election, including Dold, who won Republican U.S. Sen. Mark Kirk's old House seat in Chicago's northern suburbs.

Shimkus and the other GOP congressmen from Illinois issued a joint statement:

"The proposed map carves up towns and communities with little regard to the values and beliefs of the people who live there. 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 -- they deserve nothing less."

All congressional seats will be up for election in 2012. One option for Shimkus is that he could run in the new 15th District, which resembles his current district, even though he wouldn't live in it. A congressional candidate doesn't have to live in the district where he or she runs, but an opponent could make it an issue.

The remapping process is highly political, and this year Democrats are running the show because they control the Illinois Senate, House and governor's mansion. All three branches have to approve the new maps being drawn for congressional districts and Illinois House and Senate districts.

Using computers and data from the census and previous elections, map-makers can draw districts that are favorable to one of the political parties. The map-makers essentially can determine the make-up of the voters in a particular district.

Republicans took a beating in maps released last week for the House and Senate districts, with GOP senators and representatives across the state being drawn out of their current districts or corralled into a district with another Republican. For example, GOP Sens. Dave Luechtefeld of Okawville and Kyle McCarter of Lebanon would be put in one district, and Reps. Ron Stephens of Greenville and John Cavaletto of Salem would be put in one district.

Kirk, R-Illinois, issued a statement Friday calling the proposed congressional map "the unfortunate result of cynical partisans who want to override the decision of Illinois voters who elected fiscal conservatives to Congress."

Kirk added: "Its main purpose is to force Nancy Pelosi back into power. The map senselessly divides dozens of Illinois communities and denies our growing Hispanic community their rightful opportunity to be fully enfranchised with a second Congressman. This map was gerrymandered to ensure suburban voters will have little voice in Congress."

Laws and court rulings require that the districts be contiguous, have roughly the same number of residents and not dilute the voting strength of minorities.

The maps are expected to be approved before the General Assembly's adjournment at the end of the month. After that, passage would require a supermajority vote -- and thus help from Republicans.

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

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