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What an Illinois redistricting expert thinks of Democrats' new maps
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What an Illinois redistricting expert thinks of Democrats' new maps

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Maps

Lee Enterprises' Illinois state government reporter Brenden Moore talks with Illinois redistricting expert Frank Calabrese about the state's new maps.

Plugging in newly available 2020 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Illinois lawmakers approved an amended state legislative redistricting map last week.

It passed over the strenuous objections of Republicans and good government groups, who decried the process employed by majority Democrats. 

Republicans and groups like the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund have sued to have it thrown out — and may even have a good case. 

But, if the maps do stand up in court, as Democrat-drawn maps have the past couple redistricting cycles, their impact will be felt for the next decade.

Illinois Legislative Redistricting

Illinois State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, holds her hand over her heart as she is thanked by Illinois State Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, after passage of the Illinois legislative maps proposal on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield on Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

To get a better idea of what this map means for representation in Springfield, I spoke with Frank Calabrese, a political consultant who has become the unofficial mapmaker and go-to Illinois redistricting expert this cycle. 

Below is a transcription of our conversation, edited lightly for length and clarity:

LEE ENTERPRISES: Give the 40,000-foot view of these new legislative maps. What were the key takeaways and what does it mean for the next decade of legislative elections?

FRANK CALABRESE: The big picture view is this really solidifies Springfield under Democratic control. It's a very aggressive map. Also, it's made to create chaos within the Republican caucus. So, you see all these Republicans having to run against other Republicans.

There's 45 House Republicans. And of that 45, there are seven pairings, so there's 14 members that are affected by this ... So, just imagine that a third of your caucus is going to have to make a decision whether or not they're going to run against another member. That creates a lot of internal chaos.

It's a great map for the Democrats. They're going to be in power with the supermajority for the next 10 years. It would take an extreme realignment nationally to change that.

Frank Calabrese

Calabrese

LEE: Is this map merely about maintaining Democratic majorities or are there opportunities for the party to expand their majorities? If so, what’s a realistic number?

CALABRESE: Toward the end of the decade, I think the Democrats will realistically pick up 80 seats (in the House), so a net gain of seven. But that's kind of long term. I think initially, they'll pick up four in the next election. In the Senate, I have them losing seats.

In the House, there's two open seats right now that are Democratic: it's that Bloomington-Normal seat that goes to Bartonville and near Peoria. That's probably a Democratic pickup.

And then you have a seat in the northwest suburbs ... which is parts of Palatine and Arlington Heights. That's pretty Democratic now. Ten or 20 years ago, that used to be very Republican, but a lot of well-educated areas have really swung Democratic because of Trump.

The Republican Party, they're still embracing Trump. And what that means is that Republicans are going to do well in the rural areas and they're going to do bad in suburban areas.

Illinois remap

The revised Illinois state legislative districts, as drawn by redistricting expert Frank Calabrese. Lawmakers approved adjustments in late August. The map will be in effect for the next 10 years. 

And then you have (Republican Rep. Mark Batinick’s) district, which is like Plainfield. It has gotten significantly more Democratic. He could win in the midterm — it's probably going to be a Republican midterm. So that's one of those seats where he could win in 2022, but he'll probably lose in 2024 and in the future with these trends becoming worse and the suburbs getting more and more Democratic. And the same thing with Keith Wheeler. He could win — I would call it a toss up in his district.

​​It's really unlikely that Mark Batinick and Keith Wheeler are going to be there for 10 years. They could be there for two years, but much longer than that, I think it's going to be tough.

The other pickup (opportunity is state Rep. Jackie Haas' Kankakee-based district). Her district was a rural white district that had some labor influence, which kind of made it a swing district. Now her district's a quarter Black. They put a lot of the Black population of Kankakee in her district. And so Haas' district, it's a tossup. It was basically 50/50 between Trump and Biden, but it's trending Democratic. She could win in that district in the midterm, but in the future, I think that's a Democratic pickup.

LEE: The maps passed in May, but lawmakers had to go back in August to tweak them. Why was this necessary?

CALABRESE: One of my critiques of the Democrats' map is that they made a map for 2019. And the problem is you're supposed to redistrict for 2020, right? So to no surprise, areas that are shrinking in population, they lost more population. And areas that are growing, especially areas that are growing rapidly, they gained a lot more.

I live in Chicago, and if you build a high-rise and 5,000 people move in, that can happen in a year. So that's what happened — the downtown area grew and that wasn't incorporated in the 2019 data. So Lamont Robinson's district was 15% over the mean, (which) is about 108,000 per House district.

What they should have done is they should have made those districts smaller in population anticipating future growth. They should have built the trends into their map.

And now the Republicans have an argument saying that the map that they passed in May is void and they're going to go to court saying that it was a bad map in May, they just can't pass whatever to avoid a (redistricting) commission. They're going to go to court and it adds a degree to uncertainty of whether this map can stand.

Illinois Legislative Redistricting

Illinois State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, talks with Illinois State Rep. Lisa Hernandez, D-Cicero, after passage of the Illinois legislative maps proposal on the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives at the Illinois State Capitol in Springfield, Ill., Tuesday, Aug. 31, 2021.

This concept of being void from the beginning is very strong in Illinois. So if the Republicans can convince a state court that this map had problems from the beginning, then there is a legal doctrine in Illinois to kind of throw the whole thing out from the beginning.

In my opinion, this is not a 100% Democratic map yet because they still have a lot of legal obstacles.

Also, I'm really surprised that the Democrats didn't do anything with Latino districts. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, I think, has a meritorious lawsuit.

And they didn't work with these Latino districts at all. You can actually argue that these Latino districts got worse with the revision. So, that's something that they're going to have to litigate in court. And, if I was the Speaker or the Senate President, I would want to avoid that. So I'm a little puzzled why they didn't try to appease a lot of the concerns from these Latino interest groups.

LEE: Expand upon how some of these various communities of interests did in this map. The phrase that the Democrats have used repeatedly is that the map is "a model for the nation" when it comes to diversity. Does this map, especially given some of the legal challenges from some of these Latino groups, stand up to that billing?

CALABRESE: The Democrats ... spoke about that in May, but I have not really heard that from them recently because I think there's an acknowledgement that this is not about increasing community representation of certain interest groups.

So this map helps Black representation as much as you can, but that's kind of almost a byproduct of helping out Democratic incumbents.

The Arab and Palestinian community, they presented their own version of a map, they attended every legislative hearing that I observed, and they got absolutely nothing. Their community, which is based in the southwest suburbs of Cook County, was divided in the four Democratic House seats. And there's really no way for the Palestinian community to elect one of their own … They wanted an influence district and they didn't get it.

The reason is because these districts were made to preserve the incumbents. That's first and foremost — protecting and enabling Democratic incumbents, and that comes at the expense of a lot of these other minority groups that were advocating for their own districts.

Also, the Orthodox Jewish community, they were advocating for a district that included their community. By and large, they got some of what they wanted, but their community still split among three districts on the far North Side of Chicago.

So I think it's very hard to market this as a model for the nation. What it is is a very good map for political power, and I'm impressed with some of the districts they put together in terms of maintaining power in Springfield. And, at the end of the day, that's what matters for the people that drew these maps.

LEE: Were there any trends you noticed in the drawing of downstate districts? 

CALABRESE: So downstate, there was a lot of aggressive packing of Republican incumbents with each other. And then there were some crafty drawing with Bloomington-Normal to make that a Democratic district.  

I think Democrats left some on the table, per se, with how they drew Champaign-Urbana. So state Rep. Carol Ammons' district is like 80% Democratic, something crazy. A Republican wouldn't have a prayer winning that district. So Carol Ammons' district is super Democratic, but then there's a Republican district in Danville with Mike Marron in there which is like a 51% Biden district, which means (Marron) win at the local level.

So, the Democrats could have made Carol Ammons' district less Democratic and given those Democrats to the Danville district. They didn't do that. I thought that was kind of odd.

Another significant change is Rock Island — that Senate seat is changing drastically, so it goes all the way down to Macomb. It takes in a lot of college towns. So, I think the Democrats are really crafty to change the Rock Island Senate seat ... I think that's going to be a pretty easy Democratic pickup.

The Democrats tried to make a far southern Illinois district more competitive — the 118th. They combined Cairo with Carbondale with Marion. That district voted for Trump twice, but also voted for JB Pritzker, I believe. So it's one of those districts that will be competitive in a Democratic year.

LEE: During the last remap, there were still Democrats like Brandon Phelps and Gary Forby that represented some really rural, conservative areas. Whether through retirement or losing reelection, these members have gone away. How has this political realignment impacted the way Democrats drew the map?

CALABRESE: The most rural Democratic district right now is probably (state Rep. Lance Yednock's district), and they acknowledge that he's in trouble and they redistricted him to include DeKalb. And so now it's a bunch of union guys and a bunch of college kids.

So you're not going to see rural Democrats anytime soon, in my opinion. And I think the Democrats kind of gave up on them. But they did try to make the 118th competitive — JB Pritzker did win that district. But again, that district is not Democratic because of a bunch of rural farmers who want to vote Democratic, it's Democratic because there's a significant Black population in Cairo and there's a lot of college kids in Carbondale. It's not the Democratic district of Paul Simon and Glen Poshard. Trump really took that out.

And in the suburbs, Lake County, I remember that being a very Republican County. And now, Republicans are really on the retreat. There's Republican areas in Lake County, but there's no countywide Republican officeholders, I believe. DuPage County has one now. But both Lake County and DuPage County, the county boards are Democratic.

So, yeah, there's this realignment. I think the new map reflects that. I'm of the opinion that Republicans can still make up areas in the suburbs. But when it comes to rural areas, I just think Democrats are are largely extinguished. I don't really see that coming back. I just think the cultural divides' too high.

LEE: So an example of this would be the Springfield-Decatur Senate seat, formerly represented by Andy Manar and now by Doris Turner. The new map cuts out rural Macoupin and Montgomery counties and adds more urban parts of Springfield.

CALABRESE: Right. So Manar's district, I get a lot of grief actually from Democrats when I say Manar's district is a likely Republican pickup.

From my experience, appointed incumbents don't do anything for an incumbent advantage. And that district significantly voted for the Republicans in every significant election. So that's going to be a really tough race for Doris Turner. And they tried to help her out. They gave her every urban precinct that she possibly could get, but it's going to be an uphill, uphill battle.

LEE: So, despite being a challenging map, Republicans have some pickup opportunities.

CALABRESE: I think that the Republicans can pick up a DuPage County seat. I think they can pick up Doris Turner's seat and the Metro East district, which is represented by Rochelle Crowe, that voted for Trump twice. It also voted for Erica Harold. It did vote for JB Pritzker, they have a very strong union influence there.

So I think that district is going to be really dependent upon if Crowe runs for reelection. She's on the shortlist to be U.S. Attorney. So if she does get appointed U.S. attorney, I believe that's a very good opportunity for Republican pickup in the Senate.

Republicans, I think, could pick up seats in the Senate just because Democrats are overextended, I mean it's really crazy. They have 41 seats in the Senate. As a translation, that would be 82 seats in the House, where Democrats have 73.

LEE: Any parting thoughts?

CALABRESE: Overall, I would give the map high marks on maintaining Democratic power in Springfield, which obviously was — in my opinion — one of their highest priorities.

If I was to draw this map with the goal of solidifying a Democratic supermajority, this is the map I would draw. If I was to draw a map to help every community of interest that wanted help, this is not the map.

Brenden Moore is the Illinois state government reporter for Lee Enterprises. 

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