Some Illinois House Democrats got a bit of a shock during a private caucus meeting held not long after the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed its proposed redistricting plan with a federal three-judge panel the other day.
MALDEF is claiming the legislature’s district remap plan unconstitutionally discriminates against Latinos and has filed suit. The group distributed a copy of its counter-proposal and there was all sorts of bad news for incumbent Democrats.
The MALDEF proposal doesn’t take into account where members live, where their kids go to school, where their parents go to church. Its sole purpose is to maximize Latino representation in the two legislative chambers.
So, you wind up with a situation where Chicago Democratic Reps. Theresa Mah and Edgar Gonzales are drawn by MALDEF into the same district. Mah, an Asian-American, currently represents a Latino district with strong influence from Asian-American precincts. And that pairing is just one example.
The Republicans’ proposed remap is even worse for Democrats. The Republican proposal uses the redrawing of Latino districts to create ripple effects on more than a couple of dozen other districts which allows them to make room for new Republican districts. That’s basically the whole point of this exercise for the GOP: Use alleged Voting Rights Act violations as an opportunity to find ways to create new winnable districts for Republican candidates.
The Republican remap plan submitted to the federal panel also reportedly pairs Assistant House Majority Leader Jay Hoffman with fellow Democratic Rep. LaToya Greenwood in the Metro East. Democrats had dispersed Black voters among three different districts to make them all winnable by Democrats. That would make the non-East St. Louis district more winnable for the GOP.
The East St. Louis NAACP has also filed suit and its map proposal takes Black residents away from Rep. Hoffman and Rep. Katie Stuart and creates a majority Black district centered in East St. Louis. That would also mean bad electoral news for Hoffman and Stuart.
House Democrats were reminded during a private caucus meeting last week that MALDEF and the other plaintiffs still have to prove that the new redistricting law the Democrats passed is unconstitutional before the plaintiffs can even claim that their proposals would remedy the situation.
There was no talk of the Democratic leaders trying to negotiate a compromise. Instead, they’re confident that their proposal will withstand judicial scrutiny. In the meantime, calm was urged.
“If that's their position, they're going to lose,” predicted one longtime Democratic participant in remap efforts. “What they ought to do is somewhat modify the MALDEF and Republican maps to do some damage control overall for themselves.”
MALDEF won a landmark remap case in Illinois which ended up creating two Latino Senate districts in 1981. House Speaker Michael Madigan learned his lesson from that loss during his first ever remap attempt and never poked the MALDEF bear again.
Fast-forward 40 years and we have new legislative leaders and MALDEF is making the same sorts of legal arguments it made in 1981, which is why some argue the Democrats need to work out a compromise which could save some districts here and there.
But why was there no legislative compromise when the maps were being drawn with groups like the Latino Policy Forum, which has been arguing forcefully for months that the remap plan is unconstitutional?
The simple answer is that the Democrats firmly believe they have a winning legal strategy and their prime objective was to help Democrats and attract Democratic votes to the remap bill, which meant catering to the remap demands and desires of individual Democratic members (making sure, for example, that their kids’ schools and their parents’ churches are in their new districts).
One way the leaders in both chambers were able to prevent outside influence was to warn their members that if they talked to an outsider about the remap process, they’d get hit with a subpoena.
From my own experience trying to pry loose information on the remap, I can tell you the warnings worked amazingly well. I and others I know all heard back the same basic thing: “I can’t talk to you or I’ll get subpoenaed and I don’t want to be dragged into this lawsuit.” The Latino groups simply didn’t know what was going down.
Members were also informed that, while many of the newly created Latino “influenced” districts did not have adequate population to elect a Latino candidate, ongoing population shifts and the aging of people who are now too young to vote would combine to create majority Latino districts in the next three to five years or so.
That argument, I’m told, will be vigorously contested by MALDEF and others in court.
Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.