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Jim Dey is a staff writer for The News-Gazette. His email is jdey@news-gazette.com.

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Supermajority legislative Democrats overseeing the drawing of new boundary lines for Illinois’ 17 U.S. House districts last week held their first public hearing to solicit public opinion.

It was, ostensibly, a very important exercise in democracy.

In addition to soliciting direct testimony, state Rep. Elizabeth Hernandez, the Chicago-area Democrat overseeing the committee, invited citizens to submit “their own proposed maps.”

Between testimony offered by those present and proposed maps submitted by others invited to participate, the gathering showcased what’s best about self-government.

Except, of course, it was nothing like that at all. The gathering gave new meaning to the word “sham.”

The hearing lasted all of 24 minutes, a time lapse that raises a fascinating question — why so long?

The apparent answer is that those conducting this political pantomime tried to drag it out. Despite their theatrics, no one was fooled or should have been. So they dropped the curtain.

“It’s a dog and pony show, just like for the legislative maps,” said retired University of Illinois-Springfield political-science Professor Kent Redfield.

He noted that the faux hearings are held to comply with state law that requires them. When that obligation has been disposed of, the cigar-chompers — male and female — who wield the clout will draw the maps as they see fit.

In other words, Illinois’ five Republican U.S. House members might want to give some thought to refreshing their resumes.

Illinois’ status as a failing, dysfunctional state can be assessed in many ways. One measure is the steady decline in size of its U.S. House delegation caused by Illinois’ lack of growth as compared to population booms in other states.

As the 2022 election approaches, the number of seats Illinois will have in the U.S. House is set to fall from 18 to 17, just as it has after two past censuses led to a drop from 20 to 19 and 19 to 18.

The congressional map redrawing follows the completion of the decennial census. That’s in contrast to Springfield Democrats’ decision to draw new state House and Senate districts without the new census numbers, although they returned to Springfield and used new numbers to even out population disparities.

The Democrats’ state maps have been challenged in court, with both Republicans and Hispanics arguing that the Democratic maps unconstitutionally minimize their representation. A Black group — African Americans for Equitable Redistricting — has also raised concerns but has not filed a legal challenge.

There will be court challenges to the congressional maps Democrats ultimately approve. But the map-drawing party wields substantial legal and political authority, and Democrats are confident their contributions to political modern art will pass muster.

But questions surround Democratic plans. They know what they want to do, but they do it?

Can they run 13th District incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis out of the House? He’s clearly worried, suggesting he might run for governor if the Dems give him an unwinnable district.

Can they revise U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos’ 17th District to ensure the Democrats keep it? Bustos almost lost in 2020, and she’s retiring rather than tyring to run again.

Can map-drawers move enough Democrats into U.S. Rep. Lauren Underwood’s 14th District to guarantee re-election after she came within a whisker of losing in 2020?

Will they throw Republican U.S. Reps. Mary Miller and Mike Bost into the same district, knocking out one GOP incumbent? How about throwing Davis into the same district as U.S. Rep. Darren LaHood, taking down another incumbent?

Can they obliterate the 16th District now occupied by Republican U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger?

There are only so many ways to manipulate the district boundary lines across Illinois’ 102 counties.

But they’ve done it before. Before the 2012 election, former House Speaker Michael Madigan was distressed that Republicans held 11 of the state’s 19 U.S. House seats and vowed to change the math with a new map.

He succeeded. After the 2012 election, Democrats held 12 seats and the GOP six. The Ds have since picked up another seat to take a 13-5 margin.

Now they have another shot to use the maps to enhance their majority, but far fewer than the 11 targets they had in 2012.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached at jdey@news-gazette.com or 217-393-8251.

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