Back in the Day: Looking back on Winnetka’s voice in the House of Representatives

This article originally appeared in the October 30, 2018 issue of the Winnetka Current as Back in the Day: Looking back on Winnetka’s voice in the House of Representatives

By Peter Butler

It is election season, and we will shortly choose our representative to the U.S. House of Representatives. The race is between John Elleson (R) and the incumbent Jan Schakowsky (D).

Schakowsky has been in Congress for 20 years, but has been our representative only since her election in 2012 when redistricting sent Winnetka from the 10th to 9th district. It’s interesting to look back at how Winnetkans have been represented in the past and how representation will continue to evolve in the future.

On Dec. 3, 2018, Illinois will celebrate its 200th anniversary of being the 21st state admitted to the Union. With that step in 1818, Illinois sent its first and only member, John McLean, to the House. He hailed from downstate Shawneetown, a long way from Winnetka.

By 1913, Illinois sent 27 members to the House. As Illinois’ population has shrunk as a percentage of the U.S. population, so has the number of Illinois representatives, which is now 18.

Every 10 years, census data determines the number of representatives a state elects and how the districts within the state are divided. Each Congressional district has about 700,000 residents. It’s not simple to follow Winnetka’s geographical district path from 1818, when we had one Congressional district for the entire state, to the 18 districts we have today.

Winnetka’s district has changed numbers and boundaries over the years, resulting in ebbs and flows from being fairly conservative to more recently liberal when the last redistricting dropped the communities north of us and picked up Evanston, the north side of Chicago, and some suburbs to our west.

Throughout the past 200 years, Winnetka has been represented by some well-known politicians. Donald Rumsfeld (R), a New Trier graduate, is the only Winnetka resident who served in Congress. He became our Congressman at 30 and represented us from 1963-1969. John Porter (R) was one of our longest serving representatives (1980-1999) followed by Mark Kirk (R), another New Trier grad, from 2000-2010.

More recently, Bob Dold (R), yet another New Trier grad, beat Dan Seals (D) in 2010 and served Winnetka for one term before redistricting again changed the landscape and Jan Schakowsky (D) became our representative.

The November election can have consequences for Illinois Congressional districts. While the redistricting process varies across states, the party in power matters because they have authority over redistricting. But the governor also matters because he/she can approve or veto redistricting. Our next redistricting, which will impact our 2022 election, will be during the tenure of the governor we will elect next month.

And for those New Trier students aspiring for a political future, it looks like there is a path to congress for you!

Back in the Day is a monthly column by The Winnetka Historical Society.


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