SPRINGFIELD — Every legislator in Illinois has to run in a new district in 2012, causing some to ask this question: Is it worth it?

By Andrew Thomason

Once a decade, the political landscape shifts, as the legislative districts are redrawn to represent population changes in the census figures.

Voters have more than 14 months until they will decide the fate of 177 state lawmakers. But some legislators are taking their political futures into their own hands.

Some have announced bids for reelection in a new district; others, like state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, are seeking higher office with a run for U.S. Congress. But some members of the General Assembly, facing an election in unfamiliar territory, are bowing out of public life.

Former state Rep. Bill Black, R-Danville, retired from the Legislature in 2010 after serving there since 1986. He moved his way up to Republican leadership in the state House, was outspoken during debates and survived three remaps, two of which the Democrats controlled.

Every election after a redistricting finds lawmakers doing some soul-searching about whether they want to continue serving their constituents, Black said. A district’s voting history and likely opponents in the primary and general elections factor into an incumbent’s decision to seek reelection, Black said.

Lawmakers contemplate “things as esoteric as ‘how many parades will you have now on a Fourth of July?’ Maybe in your old district, you only had two; maybe in the new district, you’ll have five; and in rural districts, they expect you to be there,” Black said. “A lot of people say, ‘I don’t want to do that. I don’t want to add 125 square miles of new territory.'”

Pronouncements from legislators are coming down on a regular basis, indicating that they want to avoid the gauntlet of another campaign season. Stalwarts like state Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Greenville, and state Sen. Rickey Hendon, D-Chicago, resigned before their tenure was ended.

State Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said he won’t be seeking reelection under the new map in 2012 after being placed in the same legislative district as fellow Republican, Sen. Sam McCann.

New territory is one of the chief reasons Bomke said he is not running. Changes to his insurance business have called for more time, which means less time to attend Fourth of July parades and learn a whole new district, Bomke said .

Bomke has served in the General Assembly since 1995, and has survived one round of redistricting following the 2000 U.S. Census. The district Bomke would have to campaign in now stretches from Springfield to the Mississippi River, a 100-mile drive, or about double the width of Bomke’s current district.

“Ten years ago, I probably would not have even questioned it. I would have (run again) … I believe that you have to be committed to being in your district consistently, and that means doing 10 things on a Saturday, perhaps 10 things on a Sunday through the district,” Bomke said .

Former state Sen. Gary Dahl, R-Granville, announced his resignation earlier this year even before the new maps were drawn.

“I would not have run in 2012 regardless of (whether) the Republicans won the governor’s seat (in the 2010 election) and controlled the remap,” Dahl said.

At the age of 70, Dahl said his main reason for retiring was that he wanted to slow down. But Dahl said Springfield’s form of pestilent politics was another major reason.

The less politically glamorous fact of redistricting is that in order to be reelected, lawmakers would have to move to another district. That could be enrolling their children in new school districts, leaving friends and neighbors, and trying to sell a house in the depressed real estate market.

This is the time when candidates start holding events to raise cash for the upcoming campaign, but don’t be surprised if a lawmaker holds a different kind of event — a retirement party, Black said.

“I think you’ll see a lot of people in the next month decide not to run,” Black said.

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1 Comment

  1. Does any other pseudo-democracy allow this ?

    Why do we let them gerrymander the state ?  They create districts to keep themselves or their party in power.  They create districts that make no sense and display the ignorance and lack of common sense. 

    Each district should be be contiguous and compact—as 'square' as possible.  No the pencil thin area that weave in and out of districts, created to get votes and keep certain groups and politicians happy.

    The maps should be rejected until they meet natural not political bounds.

    It would then help if the legislator draws from a hat which district they will serve, AFTER they are elected.

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