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View From Metro East: Statewide, southern Illinois has no dog in the electoral hunt

Wayne Bridgewater may not have been tactful, but he certainly was to the point. As chairman of the panel redistricting Madison County, he announced — promised actually — that he would jam his plan, well, where the Republicans wouldn’t like it. This, as though the Democrats’ 24-5 majority wasn’t already enough.

Faulting Bridgewater for everything except lack of candor, the GOP pushed back with a lawsuit that ended up in the lap of David Herndon, a federal judge whose career enjoyed support of Madison County Democrats as he ascended from private practice to associate judge in the third circuit to Bill Clinton appointee.

Herndon didn’t mention jamming anything anywhere, but he went about as far as a man in a black robe can go in offering Bridgewater a dose of his own elixir. The majority plan represented “the worst of politics” and was “characterized by threats, coercion, bullying and a skewed view of the law,” said Herndon in tossing out the remap.

A hastily drawn replacement plan put Homer Henke, an auctioneer from Hamel and dean of the board Republicans, into the same district as Rudy Papa, a retired teacher and staunch Democrat from Bethalto who for six years had been the board majority’s choice for chairman. But just when it looked like a knock-down, drag-out battle, both men simply announced they would retire.

This was a horrible letdown from a theatrical point of view, as we head into an election season worthy of Broadway on the state level but without even a solid first act for Metro East. 

There is not a serious countywide contest, primary or otherwise, in southern Illinois’ two big counties, Madison and St. Clair. The only major change is that William Haine, midway through his fourth term as state’s attorney of Madison County, is running for the Illinois Senate.

Unopposed, naturally. It’s the seat from which Evelyn Bowles, now 80, a Democrat from Edwardsville, is retiring. 

Legislative reapportionment has changed plenty of boundaries hereabouts, but seems to have caused little jeopardy that the advantage of incumbency, combined with the apathy of potential challengers, cannot overcome. Most notable is the House seat vacated by Tom Ryder, a Jerseyville Republican, who went to work as veep of the Illinois Community College Board. Three Democrats and three Republicans filed, none with great name recognition in the 97th District, which pundits believe could swing either way come November 5.

U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, a Democrat from Belleville, appears to be simply beyond reach, with no “name” opposition. A recent dust-up over whether Costello helped get his son a job with Secretary of State Jesse White — and whether $50,000 a year is too much to pay the young man to shuffle car dealer paperwork in four counties — will have no electoral impact on the 12th District congressman. He has previously weathered far worse.

There is not a serious countywide contest, primary or otherwise, in southern Illinois' two big counties, Madison and St. Clair.

There is hope for excitement in the melding of U.S. Rep. John Shimkus’ 20th District into U.S. Rep. David Phelps’ 19th, made necessary by Illinois’ latest decennial loss of a House seat. Democrat Phelps, a former state rep and gospel singer from Eldorado, had been penned into Republican Rep. Timothy Johnson’s 15th District. But he deduced that Shimkus, a former civics teacher and county treasurer from Collinsville, would be the easier Republican to challenge.

Statewide, southern Illinois has no dog in the electoral hunt. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, seeking a second term, grew up in East St. Louis, of course, but based his political career in Springfield. Fellow Democrat Roland Burris can claim roots in Centralia in his third try for the nomination for governor, but it’s a hard sell after you’ve once run for mayor of Chicago.

If the Shimkus-Phelps race turns dull, I figured we could always count on the fiery Wayne Bridgewater’s battle against the vengeful GOP to keep his 15th District seat on the Madison County Board. But wait! The only ones trying to knock him off are three challengers in the primary. Apparently it was easier for the Republicans to win the remap fight than to find a candidate to take on the enemy mapper.


Patrick E. Gauen writes an Illinois column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Illinois Issues, February 2002

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