Illinois Democrats propose new 'maximized' congressional map

Illinois Democrats on Friday proposed new district lines that would likely give their party a more significant majority of the state's congressional delegation than at any time in modern history in what Republicans immediately labeled an extreme gerrymander.

The new proposal released by the House and Senate would likely give Democrats a distinct advantage in 14 of the 17 congressional districts Illinois has been awarded for the decade ahead.

Where Republicans once competed in the Chicago suburbs, a wall of blue now stands between the GOP and America's third-largest city. Population shifts between rural downstate areas and suburban Chicagoland allowed Democrats to lock in gains the party made over the last decade in seats that surround the city.

"This map completely maximizes Democratic advantages," said one longtime Democratic strategist in Chicago who has been following the mapmaking process closely. "In 2010, the Democrats were encumbered by old-school machine politicians like [former House Speaker] Mike Madigan and [then-Rep.] Jerry Costello. They didn't draw those districts in the suburbs or downstate as well as they could have."

Shrinking populations downstate meant that Illinois's rural communities were always likely to lose representation in Washington. Last decade, Illinois sent six members from rural areas to the House, five of whom are now Republicans.

But the new proposed maps give rural Illinois just five districts - two of which are now drawn to give Democrats an advantage.

The seat held by retiring Rep. Cheri Bustos (D), which currently extends from the Iowa-Wisconsin border south to the Quad Cities and east to Peoria, would take in thousands of Democratic voters in Bloomington, farther to the east and home of State Farm Insurance and Illinois State University.

Farther south, a district centered around East St. Louis - currently an area represented by Rep. Mike Bost (R) - would snake north and east, through Springfield and Decatur before taking in Champaign, home of the main campus of the University of Illinois, currently represented by Rep. Rodney Davis (R). That district would likely favor a Democratic candidate, and Illinois Democrats pointed to Nikki Budzinski (D), a former official in the Office of Management and Budget who has already declared her candidacy.

Davis's hometown would be drawn into a Republican-leaning 15th District, which stretches from Effingham along the Indiana border, north and west to Kewanee and Freeport. Bost's hometown would be included in the third Republican-leaning district in the state, which encompasses the southern quarter of Illinois to the borders of Kentucky and Missouri.

The new maps set up a potential showdown between Reps. Mary Miller (R) and Darin LaHood (R), whose respective hometowns are drawn into a district that snakes from south and east of Champaign west to the outskirts of Peoria and west to the Iowa-Missouri border.

That leaves Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R), one of the few Republicans who voted to impeach former President Trump, facing off against Rep. Marie Newman (D), whose suburban Chicago district is drawn to extend west along Interstate 80 to Lasalle.

The new boundaries are not final until the legislature acts to pass them, and even then, a lawsuit challenging the lines is all but certain.

"This redistricting process has been anything but transparent, which comes as no surprise to anyone," Kinzinger said in a statement. "I believe the people of Illinois deserve better."

Some Democrats may grumble, too, that the boundaries do not do more to expand the number of Black- and Hispanic-majority seats in the Chicago area.

Demographic data released by the state legislature shows only one Black-majority seat, currently held by Rep. Bobby Rush (D) - though more than 40 percent of residents in districts held by Rep. Robin Kelly (D) and Danny K. Davis (D) are Black. Only one district, a Hispanic bastion long held by former Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D) and now-Rep. Jesús García (D) - is majority Hispanic.