GOP hopes pinned to governorship
Between the censuses of 1960 and 1980, Chicago a Democratic bastion lost more than 545,000 residents, a 15 percent decline in population. During the same span, suburban population boomed by 53 percent, adding more than 1.4 million residents to the GOP strongholds around the city. So which party strengthened its position in the Illinois General Assembly since 1960?
Under the one-man, one-vote tenet, logic suggests the suburban growth should have translated into Republican gains. But logic would be wrong, foiled by the impact of partisan redistricting. While Republicans controlled both legislative chambers following the 1960 election and for most of that decade, since then the GOP has undergone a dramatic role reversal, becoming a permanent minority.
The contrast is stark. From 1900 through the 1972 election, the Republicans controlled the Senate for 32 of 37 General Assemblies and held sway in the House for 30 sessions. Since 1974, however, the GOP has never held the Senate and only once has been the majority in the House. Moreover, in the wake of the 1980 Legislative Cutback Amendment, which reduced the size of the House by one-third. 43 of the 59 eliminated seats were held by Republicans.
Clever Democratic cartography is the factor most responsible for the Republican hard times in recent years. Control of redrawing legislative districts is why the 1990 election may be the most critical balloting for Illinois government since 1960, the last time the state elected a governor in the same year as the census.
Redistricting begins as a three-sided affair, involving the Senate, the House and the governor. If all three agree and a map is signed into law by June 30, the issue is settled, barring the inevitable court challenges. If no map is enacted by June 30, the task moves to an eight-member commission appointed by legislative leaders with an August 11 deadline to approve a map. After that date, a ninth, tie-breaking member is chosen by lot, giving one party cartographic carte blanche, as the Democrats enjoyed in 1981.
As the summer draws to a close and the election season heats up, there's a consensus among political handicappers that Democrats have a lock on the House and probably will retain control of the Senate, though Republicans believe they can shave one seat from the Democrats' current 31-28 majority.
The GOP hopes are riding on a Sycamore community activist. Nancy Beasley, who is challenging Sen. Patrick D. Welch of Peru, a perennial target, in the 37th District in north central Illinois. Some Republican strategists believe the eight-year Democratic veteran is particularly vulnerable because of his recent switch to a pro-choice stance on abortion, after voting consistently for right-to-life. But Welch withstood an all-out GOP effort to unseat him in 1986, and Democratic analysts believe he'll be able to turn back Beasley as well.
Even should Welch lose, neither side privately expects any other seats to change hands, in which case Democrats would still hold a 30-29 Senate edge. Thus the best the Republicans realistically can hope for is a place at the bargaining table in the map-making exercise, either during the legislative session or in the redistricting commission. Their hope likely depends on winning the governor's race, the key to redistricting in 1991.
If Secy. of State Jim Edgar is elected, he could be counted on to veto any Democratic-crafted map opposed by his fellow Republicans, just as former Gov. Otto Kerner, a Democrat, vetoed a GOP redistricting plan for the House in the early 1960s. If Atty. Gen. Neil P. Hartigan is elected, however. Democrats presumably would draw a map of their choosing and have him sign it into law.
It's a long way from Labor Day to election night, and while various polls over the summer showed Edgar with a comfortable lead, no one in the GOP candidate's camp was counting Hartigan out of the race. Several key factors were still pending at this writing that could have significant bearing on the outcome of the gubernatorial contest.
In Hartigan's favor is a traditional disdain among rank-and-file Republicans for off-year elections. While Democrats slack off a bit in nonpresidential election years, the GOP loses roughly one-third of its turnout when the White House is not at stake. Since 1976, when the governor's race was moved to the nonpresidential year, the GOP vote for University of Illinois trustee a customary barometer of party strength has averaged almost two million less in nonpresidential years, a 34 percent decline. The Democratic falloff has averaged about 1.2 million, or about 21 percent.
Moreover, after 14 years of GOP stewardship, Edgar must contend with the feeling among some Illinoisans that a change of party in the Executive Mansion would be desirable. In addition, the Democratic candidate's major issue taxes has the potential to be a winner, if Hartigan is able to tap into the deep anti-tax sentiment that underlies the strong support pollsters are finding for the proposed Tax Accountability Amendment.
Those good omens for Hartigan would be discounted quickly, however, if the slate of Harold Washington Party candidates survives a petition challenge to appear on the ballot in Cook County. Led by former Illinois Appellate Court Justice R. Eugene Pincham, the slate could siphon
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hundreds of thousands of votes from Hartigan and other Democratic candidates in Chicago's black neighborhoods. Without a strong showing in the minority community, Hartigan's chances would be damaged severely, political analysts say.
There's always the chance that either candidate could commit a political gaffe that could become the turning point of the election. Indeed, some in the Hartigan camp believe Edgar already has made a fatal faux pas in supporting extension of the temporary 20 percent increase in state income tax rates now scheduled to expire next July 1. Edgar's allies, on the other hand, hope voters will respect his candor on the tax issue.
Even should Hartigan win, all is not lost for the Republicans; there's no guarantee that Democrats will be able to fashion a map that provides them with the same legislative hegemony they enjoyed throughout the 1980s. To appreciate the challenge that will face Democratic cartographers in 1991, recall the trick that enabled Democrats in 1971 and in 1981 to overcome the state's long-term demographic trends, most notably mushrooming suburban growth. In the last two remaps, the party's Chicago core was protected by overlapping legislative districts on the city's perimeter into suburban areas. After the 1970 census, Chicago was entitled to 17 legislative districts, instead of the 21 the city then controlled. By bringing some 400,000 suburban residents into nine hybrid city-suburban districts, however, the city managed to keep hold of 20 districts, each electing one senator and three representatives. Following the 1980 census, Chicago's population entitled the city to about 15 1/2 Senate and 31 House seats, but again by overlapping 10 districts into suburban territory, the city held an edge in 19 Senate and 37 House districts. When the official census numbers are released next year, a reasonable guess would be that Chicago's population will entitle it to no more than 15 or 16 Senate seats. To maintain the status quo, the city would have to bring some 600,000 to 750,000 suburbanites into overlapping districts.
Though the technique worked well for the Democrats in the past, it may not be as reliable in the future. Voters in the city's outlying wards are displaying growing republican tendencies, reflecting the GOP leanings of their suburban neighbors. Indeed, Sens. Walter W. Dudycz and Robert M. Raica, the only city Republicans in the upper chamber, both hail from hybrid districts.
Furthermore, in crafting city districts Democratic mapmakers must weigh black and Hispanic demands for greater representation currently there are 19 blacks and three Hispanic lawmakers from the city, all Democrats against the cardinal rule of protecting your party's incumbents. The dilemma becomes apparent when one considers the possibility of creating a district that could be expected to elect a second Latino senator. The most likely choice would be built around the Little Village-Pilsen neighborhoods, but those areas are now represented largely by Sens. John A. D'Arco Jr. and John M. Daley, both Democrats. If an Hispanic district were carved out of their current territory, either D'Arco, Daley or some other incumbent would lose out.
Downstate, too, could present a problem for Democrats, who control most of the legislative seats south of Springfield. Because the state's population growth has been concentrated disproportionately in the Chicago suburbs, most downstate districts will have to be expanded to meet the minimum population requirements. But as mapmakers work north from the Ohio River, adding territory to the southernmost districts, the central Illinois districts inevitably are pushed northward, into strong Republican country.
Republicans, should they get the opportunity, would have little trouble in fashioning a map that would cut deeply into the Democratic majorities. In Chicago, the GOP could employ the hybrid technique in reverse. Suburban-dominated districts around the city could nibble into the outlying city wards, perhaps wresting a half dozen or more districts from Democratic control. Down-state, Republicans could score major gains simply by slicing apart pockets of Democratic strength, which tend to be concentrated in older cities, and placing the pieces into largely rural, GOP-controlled districts. Springfield, Decatur and Champaign would be among the obvious targets.
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The GOP fantasy map seems likely to remain just that. Although some Republicans talk wistfully of cutting a deal with black and Hispanic Democratic lawmakers, trading additional districts for them in Chicago for overall GOP control of the legislature, Democratic leaders could be expected to do whatever is necessary to block such a trade.
There's more at stake in redistricting than a political version of King of the Mountain; there are enormous implications for public policy. Imagine for a moment that Lady Luck would have tapped former Gov. Richard B. Ogilvie, a Republican. rather than former Gov. Samuel H. Shapiro, a Democrat, to become the redistricting commission tie-breaker in 1981. The resulting map probably would have favored Republicans even more than the existing one has helped Democrats, leading to lopsided GOP control of the General Assembly for most of the last decade and with a Republican as governor.
Then consider the potential impact on some of the major issues of the decade:
Would almost half of the proceeds from the temporary income tax hike be going as a windfall to local governments? Or would the tax package have included mandated property tax relief, as Senate Republicans proposed?
Would the budget priorities of Republican majorities been the same as those shown by Democrats in the '80s, especially in human services?
Would the school formula continue to pump more money into the East St. Louis school district than into all the school districts in Du Page County?
Would O' Hare's neighbors have been continuously stonewalled in their efforts to secure a regional airport authority to combat air and noise pollution?
Would the trial lawyers have succeeded in blocking efforts by the business community to change significantly the way personal injury lawsuits are handled?
Such examples abound, but the point is obvious: The results of redistricting will have a profound impact on the life of everyday Illinoisans, and the November 6 election is a crucial first step in the process that will determine political law-making power for a decade.
Charles N. Wheeler III is a correspondent in the Springfield Bureau of the Chicago Sun-Times.
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