Wow! What happened in that last election (held Tuesday, November 2, 2010 if you have forgotten already)?
Already, much has been written, analysis made, and perhaps even plans formulated about the effect of the national elections. Folks are still trying to figure out how this affects Illinois, especially on the myriad problems and issues facing our new governor (perhaps the old governor) and the newly elected state legislature.
The unusual thing about the Illinois election in terms of the legislature is that really, not much changed. Before the election, Democrats held supermajorities in each chamber. The Illinois House Democratic majority was 70 Democrats to 48 Republicans. After the election, going into the 2011 session, it will be 64-54. Republicans actually won 7 seats formally held by Democrats but lost a north suburban Chicago seat held by a Republican legislator who retired. The net effect is a gain of six seats.
In the Illinois Senate elections, Republicans gained two seats formally held by Democrats. Prior to the election, the Democratic supermajority was 37-22. The majority in the 2011 session will now be 35-24.
Many folks wonder why state elections did not mirror the national trend this year. One of the reasons relates to the redistricting process that each state goes through every ten years following the completion of the national census. States are given the new population data and go through the process of drawing new legislative and congressional district maps that rebalance the population in each district, to essentially provide that the districts have the same number of people in them that a particular officeholder will represent. A significant part of that redistricting planning relates to identifying and consolidating political party affiliation to provide greater opportunity for success by the dominant party in the district.
The legislative maps drawn in 2001 reflected the interests of the dominant political party at that time (Democratic) and reflect those interests in 2010 as well. Legislative district elections tend to focus more on local and state political issues and interests (like tax policies, social service issues, education and the like). Since they are also smaller population political subdivisions, they add credence to the notion that “all politics are local” more so than larger political subdivisions like congressional districts. In comparison, congressional elections (U.S. House and U.S. Senate seats) reflect substantially more on those national policy issues, which oftentimes are separated in the voter’s mind from the state and local political scene.
The Illinois legislature will have redistricting on it’s “must do” list in the 2011 legislative session. Approval of a new plan for re-apportioning legislative and congressional district maps requires only a simple majority vote of the Illinois Senate and Illinois House, and approval by the Governor. However, if the General Assembly cannot agree upon a plan, a Redistrictricting Commission is established under the Illinois Constitution. As witnessed in the November 2010 election results, this decision, made every ten years, has a significant impact over the next ten years that it will be in effect, in terms of elections and ultimately, how the major issues facing the state will be considered, and by those persons elected within that framework.