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Thursday, May 26, 2011 12:32 am

Too much mapmaking mischief

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Statehouse paranoia and angst are always at an all-time high every 10 years in Springfield.

Why? The new state legislative district maps are drawn, and that highly political process always involves generous amounts of partisan mischief-making and revenge.

This year is no different. The Democrats control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office, so they can pretty much draw any map they want as long as they follow federal and state voting rights laws which protect minorities and other “communities of interest.”

The Republicans, locked out of power and influence, knew they were in for a beating, and they got one. In many respects it probably wasn’t as bad as it was 10 years ago, when the Democrats drew a map so solidly partisan that the House and Senate Democratic majorities easily survived one of the biggest Republican landslides in history.

Partisanship aside, though, imagine being told that the only way to keep your job was to sell your house and move your family a few miles, or even a few blocks.  That’s what some legislators have to go through every 10 years during remap season, and it’s what quite a few Republicans are facing – again – this time around. Several have been mapped into districts with fellow Republicans. One of those legislators in each of those districts will have to retire, move or suck it up and run in a primary against a fellow GOP legislator.

So, when Republicans like state Senators Kyle McCarter and Dave Luechtefeld are put in the same district, reporters heard some very angry complaints. Luechtefeld’s house has essentially been pulled out of his old, deep southern Illinois district and put into a new district further north that is (for the most part) currently represented by Republican Sen. John O. Jones. Sen. Jones’ house has been put in what is now Luechtefeld’s district. A big chunk of Sen. McCarter’s current district has been shoved at fellow Republican Sen. Sam McCann.

Confused? That’s the whole idea, man.

A new map usually means representing new territory, and that means legislators must get to know thousands, even tens of thousands of voters who have no idea who they are. That can be a dangerous thing in these politically volatile times. But in the case of Luechtefeld and Jones, they have to either familiarize themselves with almost 200,000 new faces or move, or retire.

The Republican pairings are quite numerous. Sens. Tim Bivins and Christine Johnson are in the same district.  The Democrats even paired Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno with Sen. Ron Sandack. Sen. Sandack will likely run for a House seat.

Over in the House, southern Illinois Republican state Reps. Ron Stephens and John Cavaletto are in the same district, as are central Illinois Reps. Dan Brady and Keith Sommer. Eastern Illinois Reps. Chapin Rose and Bill Mitchell have been put together.

The mischief goes beyond pitting two Republicans against each other. Northwest suburban Republican Rep. Sid Mathias has been placed in the same district as Democratic Rep. Carol Sente. The district clearly favors Sente, so Mathias will either have to move or take a big risk.

Clearly, some of these folks had better hope the housing market improves soon.

And it’s not just the pairings which grate on the minority party’s nerves every 10 years. Much of Sen. Dave Syverson’s Rockford-area district was taken from him so the Democrats could create a very favorable district for Marla Wilson, whom the Dems backed against Syverson last year.

I could go on, but I’m pretty sure you get the idea. Keep something in mind here if this all makes you angry. Two constitutional amendment were proposed a while back to change the way districts were drawn. Backers of both proposals fell far short of the required petition signatures. Some of the same Republicans who are griping now about the way the maps are drawn probably should’ve put a whole lot more effort into one or both of those amendment petition drives.

Many of those Republicans might not have worked on those constitutional amendments because they figured they’d win the governor’s race and that would be enough to block the Democrats from drawing the map without a fight. After all, how could they possibly lose after Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment and during an inept Pat Quinn administration?  Oops.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and thecapitolfaxblog.com.
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