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Battle over redistricting begins Tuesday with release of census figures

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 17, 2010 - Area Democrats are on edge as they eagerly -- and somewhat warily -- await news from the U.S. Census Bureau on Tuesday. That's when they'll discover which states will lose or gain congressional seats, as of the 2012 elections.

Illinois is expected to lose a U.S. House seat and Missouri is rumored to be "on the bubble" -- likely to barely lose a seat or barely retain its nine congressional seats. The last time Missouri lost a congressional seat was after the 1980 census; Illinois lost a seat ten years ago.

Whatever census results are announced,Republicans and Democrats are preparing for the redistricting battles that are likely to follow.

For years in Missouri, for example, activists and politicians from both parties have been contemplating the possible loss of a seat and discussing potential district maps.

If one seat is lost, state Republicans have made clear for quite awhile -- particularly since they took control of both chambers of the Legislature by 2003 -- that their target will be one of the districts that takes in the city of the St. Louis.

The rumored aim is to throw U.S. Reps. Lacy Clay and Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis, into the same urban district -- with the expectation that the two then would battle it out before voters. The matter has racial overtones because Clay is one of only two African-American members of Congress from Missouri.

Carnahan's Third District spans south St. Louis to Ste. Genevieve and is expected to be a prime GOP target for carving -- with the southern part going into the Eighth District now occupied by Republican Jo Ann Emerson and the northern half going into Clay's First District, which now takes in roughly the northern half of St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The GOP-controlled state Legislature will have the responsibility of redrawing the congressional seats, but Gov. Jay Nixon has to approve or veto their plan. If he rejects it, the redrawing task falls to a judicial panel.

Gov. Nixon, a Democrat, is expected to do his best to protect the state's three congressional Democrats. Today, he said simply that he has heard nothing, knows nothing and expects that's the case for other politicians as well -- regardless of their posturing.

"Somebody knows what those (census) numbers are; I don't know yet," the governor said.

Clay has headed the U.S. House panel that oversees the census, and has predicted that Missouri will keep its nine seats. Carnahan also has expressed some optimism.

Said Clay in a recent interview: "I'm optimistic because what I'm hearing so far is that there's been a greater than expected exodus from large population states that are hurting economically -- like California, Florida and Nevada. That will alter the map."

In a study released on Sept. 26, Election Data Services -- a political consulting firm that specializes in redistricting issues and the analysis of census data -- estimated from various data that "Missouri is now expected to lose a congressional seat" going from nine to eight congressional districts.

But the firm's officials emphasized then that the numbers could go either way when the 2010 census numbers are released. According to the study, Missouri was shy of the population needed to retain all of its seats by only 36,723 people, which one expert said meant about a "50-50 chance of losing one [House] seat."

Still, state Republicans also are gearing up. State Rep. John Diehl, R-Town and Country -- who chairs the House Special Standing Committee on Redistricting -- is meeting with reporters Tuesday to discuss the Census Bureau's decision and the redistricting process.

The census data also will be used to redraw the state's 163 state House and 34 state Senate seats. But that job will fall to special bipartisan commissions chosen by the governor from names submitted by the two major parties.

Illinois may be down by one

Meanwhile, in Illinois, most officials expect the state to lose one of its 19 congressional seats.

In an interview Friday, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said that he expects a battle over redistricting.

"I've been through this twice -- once as a sitting congressman and once as an observer" from the U.S. Senate, Durbin said. "In Illinois, we have a Democratic-controlled legislature and governor's office, which suggests that it should be a smooth process. But it is one of the hardest, toughest, meanest political tasks that any legislature or congressional delegation faces."

The senator said Rep. Jerry Costello of Belleville, the only downstate Illinois Democrat, "may feel like he's being isolated" with his seat potentially threatened.

"But Jerry's a great congressman and he'll survive," Durbin said.

Costello agreed in an interview Thursday that he expected Illinois to lose a congressional seat.

"There will be a debate in the legislature. We in the Congress already are talking about starting the redistricting process," he said. "In the last redistricting [10 years ago] it was bipartisan. We reached across the aisle and worked together and presented ideas and a draft map to our state legislators.

"I've had conversations with my Republican colleagues and hopefully we can reach an agreement on a map in a bipartisan way -- as opposed to ending up in federal court, where it will cost a lot of money and take a lot of time."

Costello, who has been in office since 1988, has seen his share of redistricting battles.

"Often these things get very partisan, where Democrats draw a map and Republicans draw a map and you go to the Legislature and fight it out -- and the losing party always files a lawsuit," he said. "I would hope we could avoid that."

U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, offered similar sentiments Thursday. Shimkus said it appears that parts of Chicago and parts of downstate Illinois may have lost residents, compared to the rest of the state, with the Chicago suburbs gaining in population.

"Most of the smaller rural areas probably have lost, which means you'll have to draw bigger districts in rural Illinois," he said.

"Jerry Costello and I are close friends," Shimkus said. "We have worked together on issues, and he has a lot of respect among members" of the Illinois delegation.

"If anyone can do it, he can do it," the GOP congressman continued. "But there's a lot of moving pieces, and we have to be prepared for it not to work."

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.
Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.

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