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updated: 6/6/2011 5:32 AM

'Burbs flex muscle in new congressional map

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  • Shapes of things to come

    Graphic: Shapes of things to come

 
By Kerry Lester | Politics and Projects Writer

Thanks to Democratic state lawmakers, a Cubs fan who lives in Addison can head more than two dozen miles east to Wrigley Field at Addison and Sheffield in Chicago, never leaving his congressional district.

That's if Gov. Pat Quinn approves a new congressional map, passed by the legislature last week, that was drawn to reflect 2010 census figures -- and help the Democratic Party gain seats in Congress, political experts say.

By grouping strong Democratic areas in Chicago with moderate suburbs where both parties are more equally represented among voters, Illinois Democrats stand to boost their number of seats in Congress from the current eight to a possible 13. This, even as the state loses a seat because of slow population growth.

Redistricting, political pundit Paul Green of Roosevelt University says, is the most partisan political process members of the General Assembly undertake.

So, it's of little surprise that the new map drawn by Democrats holding all three of the state's power seats would be politically advantageous to the party.

All of the Illinois congressmen affected have declined to talk at length about the map, though Republicans have vowed to fight it in court if Quinn signs it into law.

But even as political analysts poring over the new boundaries provide slightly different takes, one thing is certain: the suburbs, which saw booming growth over the last decade, were the prime meat in the proverbial fattened calf -- filleted to produce congressional districts that would help assure a Democratic majority in the state's delegation over the next 10 years.

Over the last decade, Chicago's population decreased 7 percent or by roughly 200,000 people.

The suburbs, on the other hand, saw growth in suburban Cook and the collar counties ranging from 1.4 percent in DuPage County to 110 percent in Kendall County.

"There's been a shift in power," Northern Illinois University professor Richard Greene said. "Because of the population shift, the Democratic core and the inner manufacturing suburbs are losing strength, as the outer-edge suburban communities are gaining substantially in strength."

Democrats, political consultant Kitty Kurth said, want to continue to capitalize on their base -- the largely Democratic voting bloc of Chicago, some of which has moved to the suburbs in recent years.

The new map appears to do just that, in some cases through odd-shaped districts that often start in solidly Democratic Chicago and extend into the suburbs through long, gnarled fingers. That essentially extends Democratic Chicago districts into traditionally Republican suburban ones, but not by so much as to put any Democratic majority at risk.

Areas filled with swing voters have been molded into two districts with no incumbent congressman and where already two Democrats have announced plans to run.

Illinois' most powerful suburban Republican -- Chief Deputy Whip Peter Roskam -- was protected.

Damaging DuPage

A socially progressive Republican, 13th District Rep. Judy Biggert was among the Republicans who had the least to worry about, if her district remained as it was, Kurth said.

"So, they made it so that she had the most to worry about."

Biggert's former district was carved into five different pieces.

To boot, the Hinsdale representative's home was drawn into the district of Chicago Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley, creating a district that stretches so far from the city to suburbs that it was ridiculed in debates on the Senate floor in Springfield Tuesday.

Biggert, 72, said in a statement that she has no intention of retiring and that she is confident the map will not hold up in court.

Since you don't have to live in a district to represent it, Biggert does have some choices. But it can make for a tough campaign if you don't live within the district.

"This is the way the game is played under the current law," said state Rep. Skip Saviano, of Elmwood Park, also the Republican state central committeeman for the 5th Congressional District.

He said it's not too likely the Republicans will win that one. "We are realistic enough to know that Quigley would probably prevail."

Roskam untouched

With $1.4 million in his campaign war chest, a seat at the Republican leadership table and a near 30 percentage point victory margin last fall, Wheaton Congressman Peter Roskam would be tough for any opponent to beat, Roosevelt's Green says, "and much tougher to take out than a newcomer."

The new district that Roskam now resides in curves around DuPage, Kane and Cook counties in a "C" shape, keeping Wheaton, Winfield and Downers Grove. The district picks up heavily Republican Palatine and Barrington townships, while discarding Democratic-leaning Hanover and Elk Grove townships, including part of the area that former Democratic Rep. Melissa Bean represented before she was defeated by tea party favorite Joe Walsh.

The change essentially makes Roskam's district more Republican, allowing some solidly Democratic areas to be drawn into other districts -- thereby helping Democrats elsewhere.

The new heavily Republican district may be, some have speculated, why three-term Democrat Melissa Bean of Barrington announced early that she would not be seeking a bid for re-election.

But Kurth doesn't think that's the reason.

"Honestly, I've known Melissa for a long time, worked with her on her first campaign and I think quite honestly that job as CEO of the Chicago Executive Club that she got is a perfect fit for her personality," she said.

Center swing

"North suburban Cook County used to be heavily Republican," Roosevelt's Green notes. "Not anymore."

The new 8th Congressional District, drawn without any incumbent, creates an open seat that's already attracted interest from two Democrats, both of Hoffman Estates -- former state comptroller candidate Raja Krishnamoorthi and Iraq War veteran Tammy Duckworth, who lost to Roskam in 2006.

The circular shaped district, which Roskam's new Pac-Man shaped district is seemingly eating, contains some of the most independent voting portions of Northwest Cook and DuPage County -- Addison, Hanover and Elk Grove townships, and parts of Wheeling Township.

Dold's doorstep

Congressman Robert Dold -- a social liberal and fiscal conservative in relatively similar fashion as his popular predecessor, now Sen. Mark Kirk -- would no longer reside in his current North suburban district, but that of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat.

Schakowsky's new district (which extends from the North Shore in the shape of a flexed arm) is more Republican than in past years, picking up portions of Arlington Heights, Park Ridge and Mount Prospect, while keeping Evanston, Morton Grove, Niles and Skokie.

Experts say that's because Schakowsky is expected to be able to win even with a bit more of a Republican voter base, so again it helps the Democrats dilute other solidly Republican areas by dragging some of them into Schakowsky's district.

"Jan Schakowsky is likely going to win wherever she is," Kurth said. "Maybe her margin (will go down by a few points) but she can absorb those new areas."

Dold will run in the new 10th District next door if the proposed map stands, spokeswoman Kelley Folino said. That new Lake County district has more Republican areas than Schakowsky's, but it also includes heavily Hispanic Waukegan, Round Lake and Round Lake Beach and heavily Jewish areas of the North Shore, which often tend to vote Democratic.

Hispanic district?

Another district with an open seat includes the home of John Atkinson, who lost a primary challenge to Democratic Congressman Dan Lipinski, a longtime family friend of powerful Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan. Atkinson's home in Burr Ridge is on the far east side of this DuPage/Kane district, drawn in as a little nub.

Centered around Aurora and Joliet, this new district also includes parts of Naperville and Lisle, and has a growing Hispanic population. Batavia scientist and former Congressman Bill Foster, who lost a bid for re-election in the 14th District to Wheaton Republican Randy Hultgren, has already announced plans to run here.

In a few years' time, Kurth says, this district could become the state's second Hispanic district, along with Luis Gutierrez' current Chicago district.

Frosh matchup

Two up and coming "young guns" -- tea party freshman Walsh of McHenry and Winfield Republican Hultgren -- are drawn together in a seven-county district that features large swathes of Kane and McHenry counties, making for a potentially tough primary between the two.

Ironically, the 2010 Republican election successes may have made mapmaking easier for Democrats, said John Jackson, a Southern Illinois University professor and Illinois elections expert. The wave swept five freshman Illinois Republicans into Congress, including Dold, Hultgren, Walsh and Adam Kinzinger.

Federal lawmakers, history says, are at their most vulnerable to lose in their first re-election campaigns.

"You don't have a bunch of entrenched incumbents," Jackson said.

Clock's ticking

Quinn has 60 days to sign the map by law. The governor, a former political gadfly who has in the past called for a "free and fair map," has been almost completely silent of his opinion of it, but Friday he quietly signed Democratic-drawn maps of new General Assembly districts.

Illinois GOP spokesman Jon Blessing says a lawsuit is "definitely on the table" if Quinn signs the map.

If he does, and it is upheld in court, success is still no guarantee for Democrats.

Sometimes, driven by the trends of national politics in a wave election, voters decide to break with habit and deliver a district that's drawn for Republicans to a Democrat.

Just ask former U.S. Rep. Phil Crane, a suburban Republican icon who's storied 36-year career in Congress ended in the 2004 election. He was defeated by Democrat Bean in a district drawn to protect him.

Or ask Roskam, who in his first bid for Congress nearly lost the district drawn for longtime Republican Rep. Henry Hyde to Democratic newcomer Duckworth.

Or ask Dennis Hastert, the former U.S. House speaker, who saw his longtime Republican district go blue.

Wave elections go both ways, though, and in the 2010 Republican wave, all of those districts switched back to the GOP.

The lesson, says SIU's Jackson, is that mapmakers can't necessarily predict the political future 10 years in advance.

"I think it has its biggest, and most obvious impact, in '12," Jackson predicted.

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