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Southern Illinois Could Be Target For Congressional District Loss

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In this April 1, 2020, file photo, a man wearing a mask walks past posters encouraging participation in the 2020 Census in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.
John Shaw is director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. Courtesy of John Shaw

A political scientist predicts southern Illinois will lose a congressional district when the Democrat-controlled Illinois legislature redraws the political maps this year.

The two southernmost districts are held by Republicans: Mike Bost of Murphysboro and Mary Miller of Oakland.

John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, said Democrats probably will want to remove one of those seats that they would be unlikely to win.

“This is less personal and more hardball politics and just saying, ‘We have two Republicans in a part of the state. We need to lose a district, let’s just combine the two districts. Let them hammer it out to see who wins,’” Shaw said.

That would leave Illinois with three congressional districts south of Springfield. Shaw said that can create an access problem for constituents that can erode confidence in government.

“To be able to actually see their lawmakers and interact with them … becomes very difficult when you have these massive districts,” he said.

Shaw added the Democrats could carve out districts to help Democrats who narrowly won last year, including western Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos and Lauren Underwood, who represents parts of the Chicago collar counties.

“This is probably not a good year to be a Republican incumbent or a representative in a district in the southern half of the state,” said Shaw, adding the system that allows politicians to pick their voters doesn’t build public confidence in elections. But he doesn’t see it changing.

“The naked fact of politics is that the party that controls the governor’s mansion and the general assembly during a remap year is going to write the maps that suit its partisan interests,” Shaw said. “It’s not the best, loftiest way of governing, but it’s inevitable.”

Gov. JB Pritzker campaigned in 2018 on creation of an independent commission to draw the political maps. Republicans have accused him of lying for walking that back. Pritzker now said he would veto a map he considers unfair.

Illinois is one of seven states that will lose a congressional district based on the 2020 census. Illinois was one of only three states to see a drop in population over the last decade, along with Mississippi and West Virginia.

Currently, Illinois has 18 congressional districts: 13 of those seats are occupied by Democrats and five are held by Republicans.

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