May 30, 2018


Political correctness under the guise of "proportionality" is creeping into the process by which congressional and state legislative districts are reconfigured every decade after each census.

Historically the party that controls a state's legislature and governorship draws the congressional and legislative map, and does so to maximize their party's congressional representation and maintain legislative control. They do so by a process called "packing" and "cracking." The former means that they "pack" as many opposition party voters into as few districts as possible, and then they "crack" enclaves of opposition party support and then disperse them among other districts with the goal being to create a 55 to 60 percent majority in winnable districts, and a 75 to 80 percent majority in opposition districts.

The tactic worked like a charm for Republicans in Texas (25-11), Pennsylvania (13-5), Ohio (12-4), North Carolina (10-3), Michigan (9-5) and Florida (16-11), where Republicans were in control, all but Texas being 50/50 states in presidential elections, and for Democrats in Illinois (11-7) and California (39-14), where they were in control. New York had a Republican Senate, so there was an 18-9 breakout. Democrats are now in total control in that state, so they can pack and crack as they please in 2021.

But is packing and cracking on the way out? Recently the U.S. Supreme Court refused to consider a Republican appeal, due to a "lack of standing," of a Pennsylvania Supreme Court - which has a Democratic majority - decision overturning the 2011 Republican legislature's packing and cracking that created that state's congressional boundaries. This has long-term political implications. It could insure Democratic control of the U.S. House for the foreseeable future, which means 2022 and thereafter. Essentially, the Pennsylvania decision in a lawsuit brought by the League of Women Voters asserted that the 13-5 Republican congressional majority, or 72.2 percent, was "improper" because the state's overall partisan balance is roughly 50/50. Hence, because half of the 18 seats are not now held by a Democrat, that constitutes prima facie evidence of packing and cracking. In 2016, Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton 49 to 48 percent.

The term "gerrymandering," named after onetime Massachusetts governor and anti-Federalist Elbridge Gerry, dates back to the early 1800s. He invented the art of cracking and packing, creating a district that looked like a salamander. Under the Constitution, each state has the right to draw congressional lines, but they were supposed to be "contiguous," and not meander all over the state since they were supposed to encompass various geographic entities. Gerry's map, back in the days when Federalists and Jeffersonian Democrats were about 50/50, insured a Jeffersonian majority. Hence, partisanship in drawing lines was established as permissible, and remained so until the 1960s. "Contiguity" was irrelevant, as was partisanship. It was OK to keep the "out" party out.

The Supreme Court's 1962 decision in Baker v. Carr, known as "one man-one vote," mandated that every congressional district be of equal population - a historic leveler between growing urban and suburban areas and declining rural areas. Variations cannot now be more than 0.05 percent. Following thereafter were the Voting Rights Act (VRA) and federal court decisions regarding southern states' remaps, in which they cracked the black voter population and spread it around so as to insure the election of white congressmen.

Also, after Baker, the practice of delaying remaps was forbidden. After the census, the legislatures have to redraw lines to conform to population growth and shifts. Prior to Baker, it wasn't unusual for urban districts, like Atlanta, to have 500,000-plus voters, while rural districts had 200,000-or-less. And the practice of delaying remapping until mid-decade was terminated. Many state legislatures from the 1930s to the 1950s, including Illinois, used the expedient of scheduling at-large elections in lieu of (and delaying) redistricting. Illinois elected at-large congressmen from 1913 to 1949.

One consequence of the VRA was the concept of "non-retrogression," which meant that packing was permissible if it insured that a minority was elected. And once a minority won a congressional seat, then the legislature could not crack that district's minority voter pool if it could result in the election of a non-minority.

Illinois has 18 congressional seats and an African American population of 14.3 percent, most concentrated in Chicago's South and West sides, the south Cook County suburbs (and around Maywood), and in East Saint Louis. There are three black U.S. Representatives - Bobby Rush (D-1), Danny Davis (D-7) and Robin Kelly (D-2). Multiplying 18 by 14.3 percent equals 2.57 black congressmen. So, to keep the aforementioned incumbents in office, their districts had to be extended far out into the southern and southwestern suburbs, exurbs and farm country, thereby cracking whites from adjacent Republican districts.

Rush's district runs from the South Loop to Braidwood in southern Will County. The district had to be kept majority-minority, and is 51.1 percent black and 9.8 percent Hispanic. By packing in the necessary number of whites (35.8 percent), but keeping the voter pool at 63.5 percent Chicagoan, Rush stays in office. Likewise, Kelly's district runs from 47th Street at the north end of Chicago's Hyde Park through the majority African American south suburbs to Kankakee and the southern border of Kankakee County. The district is 55.1 percent black and 13.3 percent Hispanic.

Hispanics comprise 16.1 percent of the state population, the bulk in Cook County, although sizeable numbers also reside in the Joliet, Aurora, Elgin, Rockford and Peoria areas. Likewise, once a Hispanic majority is created, as it was in Illinois in 1991, it is forever. That remap cobbled together every Hispanic area, creating an elongated u-shaped district from Puerto Rican Humboldt Park/Logan Square west through Avondale to Melrose Park to the DuPage County line, then east through Cicero-Berwyn to Mexican-American Little Village and the South Side 12th, 22nd and 25th wards. Luis Gutierrez (D-4) won the seat, and is now passing if off to Jesus (Chuy) Garcia. Under the theory of proportionality, Hispanics should have 2.89 congressmen. That could happen in 2021, after the 2020 census, for 2022. A packed, worm-like suburban Hispanic-majority district could be created. That, however, would crack and reduce Democratic majorities in the suburban districts of Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-8) and Bill Foster (D-11).

What won't happen, despite the Pennsylvania decision, is that Illinois Republicans will get any proportionality. The breakout in the 2016 Trump-Clinton election was 55 to 39 percent for Clinton, with five percent to others. The delegation is now 11-7, meaning that Republicans occupy an exactly proportionate 38.8 percent of the seats.

In the 2010 anti-Obama wave, Republicans transformed the Democrats' 2008 12-7 delegation edge to an 11-8 Republican edge, gaining four seats. The 2011 remap, due to Illinois' population loss, reduced the delegation to 18, and the Mike Madigan-led legislature, with a Democratic governor (Pat Quinn), carved out a cracking and packing map which created two minority-heavy suburban districts for Tammy Duckworth and Foster, merged two Republican districts, and resulted in a 2012 12-6 Democratic delegation, a net Republican loss of five seats. In 2014, another anti-Obama year, Republicans recaptured the North Shore 10th District with Bob Dold, and the historically Democratic suburban East Saint Louis district with Mike Bost. In 2016, Dold lost for the second time, and that district is now safely Democratic with Brad Schneider (D-10).

Illinois' population is on the wane, and the expectation is that the 2020 census will cost the state a seat, reducing the delegation to 17.

The further expectation is that going into 2018 the Republican majority is 235-193 (with 7 vacancies), so Democrats need a net gain of 23 seats to make Nancy Pelosi (D) speaker again. As 2018 progresses, and the president's popularity hovers in the 40-45 percent range, that looks increasingly doable. Unpopular presidents, as was Obama in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections, get a pushback favoring the "out" party. 2018 looks like an anti-Trump pushback year, and the question is how many House seats the Republicans will lose.

Democrats are counting on multiple pickups in California, New York and Pennsylvania, and seats where Republicans have retired. It could be 20 or more.

In Illinois, Democrats are focusing on defeating four of the remaining seven Republicans. In the west suburban 6th District, which covers DuPage County and parts of far northwestern Cook County, and was packed in 2011 to be a Republican district, 6-termer Peter Roskam (R) faces Sean Casten, an energy company executive who defeated three women in the primary. Roskam is a Republican insider with plenty of campaign cash, and won with 59 percent in 2016, but his district went for Clinton by a narrow margin. If there is an anti-Trump wave, Roskam is in jeopardy.

Also targeted is 3-termer Rodney Davis (R) in the central Illinois 13th District. Davis won with 60 percent in 2016, and Trump remains popular in rural areas, but Davis's district contains Springfield, Champaign-Urbana, Decatur and Collinsville. Davis faces Betsy Dirksen Londrigan in a year when female candidates will have added appeal. Another woman, Lauren Underwood, is running against Randy Hultgren (R) in the 14th District, and Saint Clair County state's attorney Brendan Kelly is opposing Bost in the 12th District. If two of these four win, Democrats will have their majority.

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