If you think House Speaker Michael Madigan played a dirty trick on Illinois’s Republicans by gerrymandering them out of five congressional seats, you need to look at some election results.
First of all, Madigan’s remap was a huge success, resulting in the retirement of five Republican congressmen: Don Manzullo, who was defeated in a primary after being drawn into the same district as Rep. Adam Kinzinger; as well as Joe Walsh, Bobby Schilling, Bob Dold and Judy Biggert. In the current Congress, Republicans have an 11-8 advantage in Illinois. In the Congress, Democrats will be up 12-6.
Does that reflect the partisan split of Illinois? Not exactly, but it reflects it a whole lot better than the current Congress. In 2010, Democratic candidates for Congress in Illinois received 1,847,747 votes, while Republicans received 1,707,264 votes. Republicans got 48 percent of the vote, but won 58 percent of the seats.
This year, Democrats received 2,514,945 votes, against 2,161,599 for Republicans. They got 54 percent of the vote, and won 67 percent of the seats. That’s lopsided, but the Democrats do deserve the majority of Congressional seats in Illinois. So Madigan’s gerrymandering brought the results closer to the people’s will.
Nationwide, Democrats received 50.5 percent of the votes for Congress but only won 201 of the 435 seats -- 46 percent. Democrats usually underperform their popular vote margin due to patterns of racial segregation that concentrate African-Americans in inner-city districts, where their candidates win 80 or 90 percent of the vote. Madigan solved this problem by extending urban districts into the countryside -- Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.’s 2nd District stretches all the way to Bourbonnais, home of his Republican opponent, Brian Woodworth. Gerrymandering, it turns out, may be necessary for democracy.
This month, Ward Room blogger Edward McClelland’s Young Mr. Obama: Chicago and the Making of a Black President will be available on Kindle for $9.99. Tracing Obama’s career in Chicago from his arrival as a community organizer to his election to the U.S. Senate, Young Mr. Obama tells the story of how a callow, presumptuous young man became a master politician, and of why only Chicago could have produced our first black president.