The mysterious 13th district candidate

click to enlarge Nikki Budzinski - CREDIT: NIKKIFORCONGRESS.COM/
Nikki Budzinski

The new Illinois 2022-2030 congressional map has the dubious distinction of being one of the most gerrymandered congressional maps in the nation. Princeton University's Gerrymandering Project presented the newly drawn Illinois congressional map with an "F" grade. Downstate's new 13th Congressional District may be the most gerrymandered district in Illinois.

Upon passing the final map last year, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Illinois Democrats defended their gerrymandering by saying their redistricting ensures minorities and other Illinois residents have an equal voice in government.

The Illinois 13th Congressional District is a narrow, squiggly district representing seven downstate Illinois counties. Six counties are each split up between two or more congressional districts. The 13th contains only one whole county – the mostly rural Macoupin County.

The six split-up counties are Champaign, Macon (Decatur), rural Piatt, Sangamon (Springfield) and the two Metro-East counties of Madison and St. Clair.

Illinois mapmakers did not limit themselves to only carving up townships, cities and counties. They split up precincts as well.

Precincts are the smallest reportable election unit. There are 74 split-up precincts out of the new 13th District's 662 total precincts. So, measuring Democratic election performance will not be precise until after voters cast their ballots in the coming 2022 primary and general elections.

However, there are rough estimates. Democratic Performance represents the "percentage of the vote an average Democratic candidate can expect in an average election year" based upon past election history. The new 13th District's Democratic performance estimates run from D+4 to D+11, which means the Democratic candidate in an average election year could expect a 4 to 11 percentage point advantage compared with the Republican candidate.

In 2012, The Almanac of American Politics rated the old 13th District as "even" – meaning a coin-flip for either party. Since 2012, with the collapse of Democratic Party support outside of big cities, the old 13th District's Democratic performance ratings shifted to Republicans – D minus 4 in 2020. And Republicans won every election through 2020 in the old 13th District.

It is unclear what the new Democratic performance will be in 2022. Especially since most political commentators are predicting, not an "average election," but a GOP 2020 landslide in the coming off-year November election.

But one statistic is clear. According to available 2020 census data, minorities in the new 13th District make up 32% of the population, with Blacks contributing about 20 percentage points. Establishment Democrats drew the previous congressional map, as well. The old 13th District contained only 19% minorities, with Blacks making up about 12%.

It's obvious that Democratic mapmakers drew the new 13th District to favor electing a Democratic congressional member by carving out rural communities, while carving in minority communities, and thereby, increasing minority proportionality by over 50 percent. Blacks in the newly drawn congressional district nearly doubled their representation when compared with the old 13th District.

Chicago Democrats made sure that, whatever the Democratic performance turns out to be in 2022, minority turnout will drive Democratic performance in the new 13th District. However, establishment Democrats' radical gerrymandering coupled with their preferred congressional candidate selection created a mystery.

Why did Chicago Democrats draw a heavily gerrymandered 13th Congressional District by increasing minority population, and then decide to fly in a non-minority Peoria native (Peoria is not in the 13th), who had been working and living in Washington, D.C., and had never voted in either the old or new 13th Congressional District?

The mystery candidate is Nikki Budzinski. She comes from a well-respected, politically active Peoria family. The Illinois 17th Congressional District includes Peoria. And, the Peoria-based 17th District is also an open seat without an incumbent congressional member running. The 17th is rated favorably for a Democratic candidate.

So, why isn't Budzinski running for Congress from her Peoria hometown 17th District? Actually, reported last November that Budzinski "voted in Chicago for each of the last five elections."

My Democratic Party experiences as a former Democrat state legislator, Democratic National Convention delegate and 40-year Democratic Party activist finds that Chicago Dems hold very little respect for downstate voters. Democratic Party insiders think they can rig the system and downstate voters won't know the difference.

That approach hasn't worked lately. In 1990, Democrats held six of eight downstate Illinois congressional districts. Today, only one of six downstate congressional districts is represented by a Democrat, and that Democrat decided not to run again in 2022.

After the 2022 election, even with Chicago Democrats drawing gerrymandered maps, downstate Illinois could very well end up without a single Democratic congressional member.

Bill Edley of Springfield is a 40-year Democratic Party activist, former Illinois Democratic Party state representative, Illinois Democratic National Convention delegate and Bernie 2016 field organizer.

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