August 14, 2019


(columnist Russ Stewart is taking the week off. This is a re-run from July 10, 2019)


Who would have thought that the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court would give Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan the gift that keeps on giving - as in the perpetual Democratic control of the Illinois legislature?

And who would have thought that the Trump Supreme Court would give the opportunity to eradicate more Republicans from the state's congressional delegation, further cementing Nancy Pelosi's control of the U.S. House?

Speaker Madigan is a longtime master of the arcane art of gerrymandering, a phrase coined in 1812 when Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry and his Jeffersonian Democratic legislature drew legislative and congressional district lines in a politically advantageous way. Gerry invented the concept of "packing," which back then meant stuffing a maximum number of opposition Federalists into a minimum number of districts.

The practice continues to this day, with the party in power staying in power by crafting post-census maps that "pack" the opposition. Forget about the nation of compact and contiguous districts. All they need to be is equal in population. And if they happen to be blatantly partisan and beneficial to whoever dominates each respective state's legislature, then so be it. The High Court's June 27 decision rejected the notion that the partisan balance in state legislatures and congressional delegations should reflect the presidential vote in those respective states, or that the federal courts should get involved.

The case was brought because North Carolina has a 10-3 Republican delegation edge, but the 2016 Trump-Clinton vote was 50-47 percent. Hence, it was argued that it was unfair that the delegation was not 7-6. A Republican legislature had drawn the map in 2011, packing every minority and Democrat possible into three districts, each now represented by an African-American. It also made sure that the legislature was safely Republican for a decade.

In the past, prior to the landmark "one-man, one-vote" Baker v. Carr decision in 1962, which required equal population in every district in each state, numerous pretexts were employed to delay census outcomes. The favorite was to stall remapping and elect new congressmen at-large. Illinois did that in the 1940s. Baker v. Carr ended that practice.

The High Court voted 5-4, with key votes from Trump-appointed justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, affirming that the status quo is OK. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in his majority opinion that gerrymandering was a "political question," not one involving constitutional issues like civil rights or equal protection.

"Federal judges have no license to reallocate political power between the two major political parties, with no plausible grant of authority in the Constitution, and no legal standards to limit and direct their decisions," Roberts wrote.

(Note how important it is, in my opinion, to hold the presidency. If Hillary Clinton had won in 2016, the Court would now have a 6-3 liberal majority. If Trump wins in 2020, it could have a 7-2 conservative majority).

Since Republicans have a 27-23 edge among governors, hold majorities in 32 state senates and 30 state houses, they will draw most of the maps in 2021 - provided that they don't get defeated in 2020. And Madigan will do likewise in Illinois, where Democrats have 40-19 and 74-44 Senate and House majorities, respectively. Those won't change.

But what will change is the Illinois congressional delegation, now 13-5 Democratic, with two Republicans having been defeated in 2018. U.S. Census projections indicate that Illinois, which had a 2010 population of 12,882,135, with about 715,000 residents per congressional district, has lost at least 800,000 people in the past decade. That means one less congressional seat and, given growth elsewhere, could mean two. The Clinton-Trump vote was roughly 59-40 percent, so under the "fair map" hypothesis a 17-member U.S. House delegation should have 6-7 Republicans. That won't happen.

Madigan now has a license to pack. His first priority will be to disperse as many Republicans as possible from Sean Casten's (D-6) west suburban DuPage County-based district, and move them into the adjacent 5th, 8th, 10th and 11th districts of Mike Quigley, Raja Krishnamoorthi, Brad Schneider and Bill Foster, respectively, where they will be swallowed by the sea of Democrats Madigan packed into those districts in 2011. Now he must switch some Democratic areas from those districts to pack the 6th. Casten beat incumbent Peter Roskam (R) 169,001-146,445 in 2018, so a future Republican wave could threaten him.

His second priority is to bolster freshman Lauren Underwood in the 14th District, which wraps around the collar counties, and extends from McHenry County at the Wisconsin border south to Kendall County (Yorkville and Oswego). Underwood upset incumbent Randy Hultgren (R) 156,035-141,164, in large part due to the fact that J.B. Pritzker spent well over $25 million in Downstate party-building and get-out-the-vote activities, which benefited Underwood and Casten. State Senator Jim Oberweis (R), of the ice cream chain fame, has announced against Underwood for 2020, and has no problem self-funding. If he should win, then Madigan will have to rethink his plans.

Atop the 2021 chopping block is Republican Rodney Davis (R-13), who won 136,516-131,458 in 2018, and whose Downstate district includes Decatur, Champaign-Urbana and Bloomington. All these cities have sizeable pockets of Democratic strength, some of which could be appended into Underwood's district. The other Republicans are John Shimkus (R-15), from deep Downstate and Mike Bost (R-12), from the East Saint Louis area, plus Adam Kinzinger (R-16), from the northern rural tract stretching from Rockford to south of Kankakee, and Darin LaHood (R-18), whose district includes Peoria and Springfield and stretches west to the Mississippi River. They all won easily in 2018, getting 71, 52, 59 and 67 percent, respectively.

Under the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, there is a mandate for non-retrogression, which means that once a majority-minority district has been created, it can never be, as the gerrymandering pros say, "bleached," or pumping in a white voting majority, or be eliminated. Illinois has three Chicago-area African-American legislators - Bobby Rush (D-1), Robin Kelly (D-2) and Danny Davis (D-7) - and one Hispanic, Chuy Garcia (D-4). The African-American Chicago population has been declining for decades, and the South Side and suburbs can sustain only one black-majority district. So the 2021 remap will have to have Rush's 1st District, which begins just south of the Loop, where he was once alderman, absorb more far southwest suburban territory, pushing out to Braidwood or even Dwight, while still sustaining a black population majority. And Kelly's 2nd District, the seat once held by Jesse Jackson Jr., will have to push even more south into Iroquois County. It will be a stretch to keep her district majority-minority. Technically, that is adding white voters to a minority district, or "bleaching," but Madigan has no choice. Underwood is African-American, so that gives Madigan an option to make either Rush's or Kelly's district non-majority-minority.

But since the Democratic primary is determinative, and the black vote dominant, the 1st and 2nd districts will remain as they are, with the same incumbents.

The U.S. House is now 235-200 Democratic, with Democrats making a net pickup of 40 in 2018. Republicans need a net pickup of 18 in 2020 to regain control. The current debate among political insiders is whether the Republicans have bottomed-out and/or whether the Democrats have maxed-out. For example, in seven West Coast states (CA, CO, HI, NV, NM, OR, WA) Democrats have a 69-15 congressional edge. In California, it's 46-7. It can't grow much bigger, even in an anti-Trump avalanche. In the other Western states (AK, AZ, ID, MT UT, WY), Republicans have a 12-6 edge. Republicans control the legislature in six states, with Arizona, which gains one new seat in 2022, being the most critical.

In the east, the New England states (ME, VT, NH, MA, CN, RI) are 23-0 Democratic, and New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Delaware are 40-8. Pennsylvania is 9-9. There are few Republicans left to beat in 2020. Only Pennsylvania has a Republican legislature, so that state's congressional Republicans won't be extinct.

In the Midwest (IL, IN, IA, KN, MI, MN, MO, NB, ND, OH, SD, WI), despite some 2018 setbacks, Republicans still control every legislature except in Illinois and Minnesota. Of the region's 94 congressional seats, Republicans have a 54-40 edge. Trump won every state in 2016 except Illinois and Minnesota. Democrats have maxed-out congressionally, but Republicans could win back seats in Iowa and Kansas.

The South is the Republicans' firewall. Of the 152 congressional seats in the region (AL, AR, FL, GA, KY, LA, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV), Republicans have a 101-51 edge. In the 2018 anti-Trump wave, they lost nine seats. Every state legislature is Republican-controlled, although the Virginia House could flip in November. The Republicans' dominance is entirely attributable to packing, and now that will continue to be permissible thanks to the court's decision. In the Deep South minorities are packed into one or a few congressional districts, and whites spread into the rest. Alabama (6-1), Georgia (9-5), Louisiana (5-1), Mississippi (3-1), North Carolina (10-3) and South Carolina (5-2) all have Republican delegation majorities, and 11 of the 13 Democrats are black. That will not change.

Going into 2020, it looks like Republicans will pick up 5 to 10 U.S. House seats, but Democrats will stay in control.

IN A LOCAL DEVELOPMENT: With the June 28 resignation of Rob Martwick (D) to become state senator, the favorite to replace him as 19th District state representative is former 45th Ward alderman John Arena. However, word is that intense anti-Arena trade union pressure on Madigan may cause retired and former state representative Joe Lyons to emerge as a caretaker until 2020. Lyons held the 19th District seat for years before Martwick succeeded him.