Illinois Democrats look to eliminate GOP House district

As congressional redistricting looms, Illinois may be sending one fewer Republican to Washington

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Channahon) talks Thursday, Aug. 5, 2021, in front of Carus Corporation in Peru

CHICAGO – Say goodbye to at least one of your Republican U.S. House members, Illinois.

The release of new, detailed census data Thursday means that Democrats who control state government can begin the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing Illinois’ congressional district boundaries. With the state losing a congressional seat because of population loss, they’re certain to eliminate a district in heavily Republican areas of central and southern Illinois, where most of the losses occurred.

What remains to be seen is which Republican will be drawn out of his or her district – and whether the maneuvering will help Democrats keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms. Republicans control redistricting in more states than Democrats, including in growing states such as Texas and Florida, and the GOP needs to pick up only five seats to win the majority.

“It’s pretty much going to be a scratch ball game,” said Alvin Tillery Jr., an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.

What’s not in question is that one of Illinois’ congressional districts currently held by a Republican – all five of which lost population between 2010 and 2020, according to the census – will become part of another GOP representative’s district.

“I don’t think there’s going to be anything Republicans can do to stop that,” Tillery said.

Illinois currently has 18 congressional districts, with Democrats holding 13 House seats and the GOP controlling five. Under the new map, they must draw 17 districts of roughly equal population.

Four of the Republican districts are in central and southern Illinois. They are held by Reps. Rodney Davis, Darin LaHood, Mike Bost and Mary Miller, who is in her first term. The fifth GOP district skirts around the farthest suburbs of Chicago and into largely rural areas of northern Illinois. It’s held by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was among 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

Democrats could carve up Kinzinger’s district, putting portions that more reliably vote for Democratic candidates into other districts where the party has had some of its toughest reelection fights in recent cycles. That includes the 14th Congressional District, which is composed of suburbs and rural areas stretching from the Wisconsin border south through parts of McHenry, Kane and DuPage counties. Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood won a second term in the 14th District last fall by just more than 1 percentage point against Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

Another area Democrats would like to shore up is the 17th District, which is currently held by Rep. Cheri Bustos, who isn’t seeking reelection. Bustos also won a narrow victory in 2020 in a northwestern Illinois district that supported Trump.

Democrats also could change boundaries for the 13th District in central Illinois, where Davis was targeted by Democrats in 2018 and 2020 and won both times. Both Kinzinger and Davis have been mentioned as possible candidates to challenge Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker next year, although both have said they’re waiting to see how the new political boundaries look before deciding what to do.

Eight of the 13 districts held by Democrats gained population over the past decade while five lost population, some modestly. The 17th District, held by Bustos, saw the largest population loss of any Illinois district between 2010 and 2020, losing 5.48% of its population.

Two of the other biggest losers by percentage of population were the 12th District in far southern Illinois, currently held by Bost, and the 15th District in southeastern Illinois, represented by Miller. That could mean the two will be drawn into the same district under a new map.

Democrats have not publicly set a timeline for drafting and releasing the new maps, which must be approved by the Legislature – where the party holds veto-proof majorities in both chambers – and signed by Pritzker.

The redistricting process already has angered Republicans and others who want to see independently drawn political maps rather than a process controlled by the party in power. They have criticized Pritzker for not keeping a promise he made as a candidate in 2018 to veto maps drawn by politicians. Democrats counter that Republicans across the country have used partisan gerrymandering to increase their odds of winning races and give the GOP large political advantages.

Lawmakers earlier this year moved Illinois’ 2022 primary elections from March to June 28 after pandemic-related delays in the U.S. Census Bureau release of the redistricting data needed to draw the congressional boundaries.

They went ahead with redrawing state legislative districts using population data from the American Community Survey, and Pritzker signed those maps into law. That prompted lawsuits from top Republicans and a Latino civil rights organization, who argued that Democrats used incomplete data and a nontransparent process.

All sides of that debate will now use the new census data to make their case that the maps are either fair or flawed and should be redrawn.


Associated Press reporter David Lieb in Jefferson City, Missouri, contributed.