Declining population could mean one less seat in Congress for St. Louis metro


Sun shines on the U.S. Capitol dome, Tuesday, March 2, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

ST. LOUIS — The exodus from St. Louis city to the suburbs could mean changes for the area’s congressional seats when it comes time for redistricting. An Associated Press analysis shows Missouri’s 1st Congressional District is among the top 10 nationally in population decline.

University of Missouri-St. Louis political scientist David Kimball said that likely means Democratic U.S. Rep. Cori Bush’s seat needs to be redrawn to include more people. There’s an expectation among political watchers that, as a result, the 2nd District would expand to include more of St. Charles County.

The Cook Political Report did a similar analysis that shows the 1st District is 10th overall in slowest-growing districts between 2010 and 2020, with Metro East districts represented by Mike Bost (IL-12) and Mary Miller (IL-15) checking in at fifth and ninth on the list. Missouri’s 8th District seat, represented by a potential U.S. Senate candidate Jason Smith, sits 15th on that list.

In Illinois, the release of new, detailed census data means Democrats who control state government can begin the once-in-a-decade process of redrawing Illinois’ congressional district boundaries. With the state losing a congressional seat due to population loss, they’re certain to eliminate a district in heavily Republican areas of central and southern Illinois, where most of the losses occurred.

What remains to be seen is which Republican will be drawn out of his or her district — and whether the maneuvering will help Democrats keep control of the U.S. House of Representatives in the 2022 midterms. Republicans control redistricting in more states than Democrats, including in growing states such as Texas and Florida, and the GOP needs to pick up only five seats to win the majority.

“It’s pretty much going to be a scratch ball game,” said Alvin Tillery Jr., an associate professor of political science and director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy at Northwestern University.

What’s not in question is that one of Illinois’ congressional districts currently held by a Republican — all five of which lost population between 2010 and 2020, according to the census — will become part of another GOP representative’s district.

“I don’t think there’s going to be anything Republicans can do to stop that,” Tillery said.

Illinois currently has 18 congressional districts, with Democrats holding 13 House seats and the GOP controlling five. Under the new map, they must draw 17 districts of roughly equal population.

Four of the Republican districts are in central and southern Illinois and are held by Reps. Rodney Davis, Darin LaHood, Bost and Miller, who is in her first term. The fifth GOP district skirts around the farthest suburbs of Chicago and into largely rural areas of northern Illinois. It’s held by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who was among 10 Republicans who voted to impeach President Donald Trump.

Democrats could carve up Kinzinger’s district, putting portions that more reliably vote for Democratic candidates into other districts where the party has had some of its toughest reelection fights in recent cycles. That includes the 14th District, which is made up of suburbs and rural areas stretching from the Wisconsin border south through parts of McHenry, Kane and DuPage County, and where Democratic Rep. Lauren Underwood won a second term last fall by just over 1 percentage point against Republican state Sen. Jim Oberweis.

Another area Democrats would like to shore up is the 17th District, which is currently held by Rep. Cheri Bustos, who isn’t seeking reelection. Bustos also won a narrow victory in 2020 in a northwestern Illinois district that supported Trump.

Democrats also could change boundaries for the 13th district in central Illinois, where Davis was targeted by Democrats in 2018 and 2020 and won both times. Both Kinzinger and Davis have been mentioned as possible candidates to challenge Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker next year, though both have said they’re waiting to see how the new political boundaries look before deciding what to do.

Eight of the 13 districts held by Democrats gained population over the last decade while five lost population, some modestly. The 17th district, held by Bustos, saw the largest population loss of any Illinois district between 2010 and 2020, losing 5.48% of its population.

Two of the other biggest losers by percentage of population were the 12th district in far southern Illinois, currently held by Bost, and the 15th district in southeastern Illinois, represented by Miller. That could mean the two will be drawn into the same district under a new map.

Democrats have not publicly set a timeline for drafting and releasing the new maps, which must be approved by the Legislature – where the party holds veto-proof majorities in both chambers – and signed by Pritzker.

The redistricting process already has angered Republicans and others who want to see independently drawn political maps rather than a process controlled by the party in power. They have criticized Pritzker for not keeping a promise he made as a candidate in 2018 to veto maps drawn by politicians. Democrats counter that Republicans across the country have used partisan gerrymandering to increase their odds of winning races and give the GOP large political advantages.

Lawmakers earlier this year moved Illinois’ 2022 primary elections from March to June 28, after pandemic-related delays in the U.S. Census Bureau release of the redistricting data needed to draw the congressional boundaries.

They went ahead with redrawing state legislative districts using population data from the American Community Survey, and Pritzker signed those maps into law. That prompted lawsuits from top Republicans and a Latino civil rights organization, who argue Democrats used incomplete data and a non-transparent process.

All sides of that debate will now use the new census data to make their case that the maps are either fair or flawed and should be redrawn.

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