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Q&A: Taking a closer look at what the new Illinois congressional map means for central Illinois

U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos has opted against another run in the 17th Congressional District, which includes parts of Peoria.

PEORIA — The Illinois Democrat-drawn congressional maps seek to maximize the party’s advantage, giving them a fighting chance in 14 of the 17 new districts.

Bradley University political science professor Megan Remmel tells WCBU’s Tim Shelley that the creation of a second Latinx majority district in the Chicago area will likely help the maps withstand any legal challenges.

Megan Remmel
Bradley University political science professor Megan Remmel. Courtesy of Megan Remmel

Listen to this story here.

Closer to home, Remmel describes why retiring GOP Congressman Adam Kinzinger and freshman Democrat Marie Newman drew the short straws in the latest re-map.

MEGAN REMMEL: I am not surprised that they tried to draw and seem to have successfully drawn another majority-minority district that is very concentrated for Latino voters. And that actually helps them comply a bit with the Voting Rights Act. So even if things like compactness, or how tight people are geographically located in the district is a little wonky in some of these districts, something like that helps satisfy the Voting Rights Act. And that gives them a little leeway.

Obviously, there’s been a huge population shift in Southern Illinois. So it doesn’t surprise me that of all of the representatives they seem to have targeted it was Mary Miller, whose district is I believe, now spread across four different districts. And so it seems to me that if she wants to have like the strongest chance of winning in terms of partisanship, then she would go for Rodney Davis’s district, but Rodney Davis is now in a much safer position because of how Republican that district is. So it would be challenging, but it would also be challenging, and now what is kind of what’s left of Mike Bost’s district. So she’s got a tough decision to make about which district she runs in.

Obviously, Adam Kinzinger, has already said that he is not going to run for reelection. I think, theoretically, Illinois Democrats in the State Legislature would have liked to have kept him in Congress as one of those Republicans.

But I think they also assume that he’s just not going to win a primary. There’s just there’s too much baggage for him now. And the Republican Party has generally coalesced around Donald Trump. And obviously, Adam Kinzinger is not going to get an endorsement from Donald Trump and whoever runs against Adam Kinzinger will. So I think they just immediately kind of were like, there’s we can’t save him. And there’s no point in even trying. So he was kind of a sacrificial lamb.

And then obviously, Newman up near Chicago is also being put in a tough position. And so I think one of the things you have to think about when we talk about redistricting is that yes, they are trying to protect incumbents on their own party, but the party is going to come first. And that does mean on occasion, you are going to end up sacrificing one of your own party. So in this case, it happens to be her just because of trying to create that new majority minority district and keeping the one that already existed for Chuy Garcia.

So the state legislature, I think, tried to protect its incumbents, its co-partisan incumbents as much as possible, but there’s only a certain extent that you can do that.

TIM SHELLEY: And I want to get your take on the new 17th and 16th, specifically. So it’s kind of interesting. The 17th really encompasses most of the city of Peoria proper, but the 16th kind of surrounds it for all the more rural, I guess, Republican areas around the City of Peoria proper. It’s it’s kind of an interesting situation.

MEGAN REMMEL: One of the legal requirements for redistricting is what’s called communities of interest. So you try to keep together people who have similar, both kind of ideological values, party affiliation, socio-demographic characteristics. And obviously Peoria and some of the areas in this side of the state are relatively segregated in a lot of different ways. And so to keep those communities of interest together, it makes sense to have to divide things in a certain way.

Obviously, it also contributes to something like polarization because you get a district like what’s left of Darin LaHood’s that is just very, very bright, flashing red. And then you get a district that is trying to be blue. I don’t know how blue it will end up being. But obviously, there’s been some lessons learned about about Cheri Bustos’ experience and her strategic retirement with how close she came with Esther King, and that Esther King is going to be running again.

So it makes sense to me both from a communities of interest/ legal requirements standpoint, and from a trying to pack as many Republicans into a single district as possible to make the surrounding districts, even just the slightest bit bluer. So it’s both a legal requirement and obviously a partisan concern.

TIM SHELLEY: The new 17th, is there a chance that goes Republican? I was looking at some of the numbers it looks like it’s drawn to be Democratic, but it doesn’t look like it’s overwhelmingly Democratic, per se.

MEGAN REMMEL: No, it’s certainly not anywhere like +10 Biden. It’s certainly not in the double digits. And if 2022 was a bad year for Democrats, and historically the midterm elections are bad for the president’s party. The Democrats obviously already had a very, very tight majority in the House and in the Senate.

And so, yeah, it’s a risky move in that if 2022 proves to be a bad year for the Democratic Party, that’s a seat that’s very likely to switch hands.

And that’s not necessarily a criticism of like the the partisan effort. I’m not judging partisan gerrymandering one way or another; it’s partly just geographic concerns. So obviously, districts have to be contiguous. You have to be able to travel within the entire district without ever leaving the district. So you’ve got continuity issues there to try to make it more Democratic and there’s only so many permutations you can use. And it’s not any person, any Democrat, running in that district can’t help what the national conditions are at that time.

Now, if we get COVID even better under control than it is now, if the economic conditions start to pick back up, if the unemployment rate starts to come back down a little bit and weekly unemployment filings go down, if if some of the major spending bills that the Biden administration has been advocating for actually come into reality, maybe that’ll change some of the fortunes of the Democratic Party.

But things are so up in the air right now and so stagnant for the Democratic Party that yeah, that’s one of those districts where if you’re a Democrat, you’re holding your breath next year.

TIM SHELLEY: Meghan, anything else you’d like to add?

MEGAN REMMEL: The one thing that I want to add is that there’s a bunch of research that’s starting to come out about nonpartisan commissions. So I know there’s complaints about the way that that maps are drawn in a lot of states, by the state legislatures who obviously have a very vested partisan interest. There’s research coming out from political science that shows that these non partisan commissions seem to be just as likely to protect incumbents as state legislature drawn maps. So I don’t think that the evidence is there yet to show that nonpartisan commissions just solve all of the ills of partisan gerrymandering.

And the Supreme Court basically said okay to partisan gerrymandering. So even if you don’t like it, it’s legal.

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