Indiana redistricting plan appears to benefit GOP

The northern Indiana congressional district that Democrat Joe Donnelly narrowly held onto in last year's election is on its way to taking a more Republican tilt.

Republicans who control the Indiana General Assembly on Monday released proposed new maps for the state's nine congressional and 150 legislative districts, which seem to point toward solidifying GOP gains in the Statehouse.

The congressional map puts all of Elkhart County and much of Kosciusko County — both heavily Republican — into Donnelly's current 2nd congressional district and removes part of Democratic-leaning LaPorte County and all of Kokomo.

Donnelly has been considering whether to run for the U.S. Senate or governor because of expected changes in his district. The third-term congressman said in a statement Monday he believed politics was involved in the redistricting and he would decide his next political step in the coming weeks.

"Clearly those are politically motivated lines there that have been moved," said Sen. Tim Lanane of Anderson, the top Democrat on the Senate Elections Committee. "This was something that we feared might happen, particularly with Representative Donnelly's district."

The congressional map also would extend what has been a swing district won last year by Republican Todd Young over then-Democratic Rep. Baron Hill further north to include all of heavily GOP Johnson County just south of Indianapolis. The 9th district starts in the Ohio River counties near Louisville, Ky.

The proposal also would give southern Indiana's 8th district, which switched parties last year with Republican Larry Bucshon's win, more of the counties along the Ohio River east of Evansville.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, said the proposed congressional districts are more compact and more representative than those drawn by Democrats when they controlled redistricting in 2001.

Long said political considerations weren't as important as keeping counties together, and he expected the districts now held by Donnelly, Bucshon and Young to remain competitive.

"We've tried out best to keep counties intact where we can," he said.

Nine of the state's 92 counties would be divided between two congressional districts under the Senate committee plan. The other 83 would be single-district counties.

Indiana's six other congressional districts appear likely to remain in their partisan camps — four Republican and two Democratic.

The state could see an open seat in the 6th district if current Republican Rep. Mike Pence makes his anticipated run to replace term-limited Gov. Mitch Daniels. The redistricting plan would shift that district to the south, with it stretching from the Muncie area to four counties along the Ohio River.

The legislative redistricting plans, which Republican leaders expect to approve by the session's scheduled April 29 finish, has Democrats facing difficult prospects on several fronts.

The House plan has three districts that put two current Republican legislators together, three districts with at least two Democrats and four districts with a Republican and a Democratic incumbent.

That also results in eight new districts among the 100 House seats without an incumbent. All those appear to be in predominantly Republican areas — three in suburban Indianapolis, one in suburban Lake County, three in rural northern Indiana and one in rural southeastern Indiana.

Democrats — outnumbered 60-40 in the House after losing their majority in last November's election — said five of their House members from Indianapolis were drawn into just two districts

"I really am beyond words. I don't know what to say," said Rep. Vanessa Summers, who was put in the same Indianapolis district as another Democrat. "This is just another disturbing, radical situation that we find ourselves in."

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the intent of the redistricting plan was to make compact districts that kept counties, cities and school districts together as much as possible — not to protect or target any particular members.

"It wasn't our goal to draw a political map," Bosma said. "I can't tell you a single statistic on it."

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, was drawn into a district with Republican Rep. Dan Leonard of Huntington, but said he planned to run again for his 21st two-year term.

Espich said he wasn't aware of the situation until he saw the map on Monday but he knew there would be significant changes to districts in rural northeastern Indiana because of population losses.

"It just so happened that to a great extent it was my home county," Espich said.

Democratic Rep. Ed DeLaney of Indianapolis said he doubted the new map would lead to competitive elections.

"From what I can tell, some nests were very nicely feathered," DeLaney said. "We've been shut out of this process completely and it'll take us at least a few hours if not a few days to sort out exactly what's going on."

The proposed map for the 50 Senate districts doesn't put any incumbents in the same districts, Senate leaders said. Republicans now have a commanding 37-13 majority in the Senate, which they've controlled since the mid-1970s.

The House and Senate election committees scheduled public hearings on the redistricting plans for Wednesday.

"There isn't much time for the public to weigh in on this," said Julia Vaughn, policy director for the government watchdog group Common Cause/Indiana.

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