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posted: 1/6/2012 5:00 AM

Mapping out a sweet deal for Democrats

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More than 20 years ago I wrote an article for an academic journal on redistricting in Illinois. I said the driving forces behind this "most partisan act" were 1) territory vs. population, in which rural Illinoisans fought to prevent Chicago and later suburban Cook County from receiving its fair share of districts; 2) geography vs. party, in which party leaders sought political advantage for their strongest statewide voting areas; 3) incumbent survival -- the Illinois General Assembly has never been a good place to find political martyrs; and 4) race, a relative newcomer to the process stemming from the 1960s civil rights movement.

In short, redistricting history in this state has not been pretty, with perhaps the most outrageous example being that from 1901 to 1955 rural legislators, fearing Chicago's growth, simply refused to redistrict -- take that, you Decatur state representative yahoos.

What does all this mean for the newly constituted congressional and legislative districts in 2012? If you are a Republican, probably misery, and as you look for villains, do not forget the unsuccessful 2010 GOP gubernatorial candidacy of state Sen. Bill Brady. Why?

The "new" 1970 Illinois Constitution attempted to correct the state's pitiful redistricting record. It said if the parties could not agree on a new map, an elaborate eight-member system for legislative leaders to reach a legitimate and equitable compromise would come into play. Moreover, if the deadlock remained, the constitution framers added a wrinkle of chance (a ninth name, picked from a hat) to give one party a majority and the ability to draw the map.

Few observers thought in 1970 that either party would play map roulette -- all or nothing by risking the "hat" -- but of course they were wrong.

Deadlock and chance could be avoided only if one party held the redistricting triple -- that is, control of both legislative chambers and the governor's mansion. Brady's narrow 2010 loss, combined with the Democrats retaining control of the state Senate and House, doomed GOP redistricting prospects.

Suburban Chicago has keyed Democratic legislative fortunes in recent years. The party has even produced winning districts beyond Cook County's borders with neatly carved districts in several collar counties, especially Lake and Will. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton need these districts to remain in power. The new map definitely will help their chances.

As for the 2012 congressional contests, the Tea Party, whose surge helped three GOP challengers unseat Chicago-area Democratic congressmen, now faces re-elections in new districts. Of the three, Rep. Joe Walsh will face the stiffest battle running in a newly drawn 8th Congressional District.

What to expect? Each congressional and legislative battle will feature unique personalities and issues, but undoubtedly Republicans will face a map disadvantage. And for those of you who think Illinois Democrats have been unfair, Republican leaders in Ohio and Pennsylvania have inflicted similar "maps of pain" on their Democratic counterparts.

Many years ago one of my old mentors, Milton Rakove, said this about redistricting: "A good mapmaker is worth 500 precinct workers." It was true then and most likely will be true in 2012.

• Paul Green is director of the Institute for Politics at Roosevelt University in Chicago and Schaumburg.

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