GOP forges ahead with Indiana redistricting

April 20, 2011

Election maps proposed by Indiana Republicans for the state's congressional and legislative seats have fewer of the sprawling districts that Democrats put in place a decade ago.

The new maps are on track to win final legislative approval in the coming week. But Democrats dispute claims by Republicans that the proposed districts are more politically balanced, and leaders of a redistricting watchdog group say voters should have more time to weigh in on them.

Republicans who now fully control the Legislature and the redistricting process say they've followed their commitment to draw new districts that are compact and avoid splitting up cities and counties.

Democrats argue that Republicans are disingenuous in saying they don't know how slanted the maps are in the GOP's favor.

Democrats point to places like Bloomington and surrounding Monroe County, which now has two solidly Democratic Indiana House seats. The proposed map would leave the county with one district taking in most of Bloomington, while the rest of the county would be divided among four surrounding Republican districts.

"Despite whatever rhetoric everyone might put out there, these maps are political," said Democratic Rep. Matt Pierce of Bloomington. "They've been political every decade and this is no different."

Control of the 100-member Indiana House has typically been decided by five or fewer seats since the mid-1980s until last November's election gave Republicans a 60-40 majority. Democrats say 62 of the proposed districts would be solidly Republican and leave 14 closely contested districts — down from the current 24.

Republican legislative leaders counter that they didn't use political information on drawing the new maps — as required based on the 2010 census — and haven't released any analysis to dispute the Democrats.

Leaders of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission say they're frustrated there hasn't been enough information released to the public to show how heavily packed individual districts are in favor of a particular party.

"They said they'd have transparency so everybody could see what was going on, and it is still being done in back rooms," said former Republican legislator Bill Ruppel, co-chairman of the commission, which was formed by state chapters of the League of Women Voters, AARP and the political watchdog group Common Cause/Indiana.

The Republican-proposed districts for Indiana — nine congressional, 50 state Senate and 100 state House seats — aren't available by online mapping programs or address searches so that a voter could easily determine which ones will be theirs. For instance, the only public way for someone to know for sure their new state House district would be to know their precinct number and search the 64-page listing on the House website, or to go through the bill listing for the Senate and congressional districts.

"Certainly in Indianapolis and the other urban areas there isn't any way to look at those maps and get a good sense at all what the districts are like," said Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause/Indiana.

Ruppel said Republicans did well, however, at putting together more compact districts and splitting up fewer cities and counties. But he and other citizen commission leaders say that since state law only requires the congressional districts — not the legislative districts — be approved before the Legislature's April 29 adjournment deadline, more public hearings should be held around the state and those districts voted on in the fall.

Republican House Speaker Brian Bosma said the proposed districts weren't engineered for a political outcome and that the greatest population growth has been in traditional Republican suburban areas.

Bosma said the Democrat-drawn maps in place for the 10 years were "extraordinarily gerrymandered" and that Republicans had unprecedented openness in redistricting with committee hearings around the state before the districts were drawn.

"They had no public hearings with no maps in the past," Bosma said. "We've had nine public hearings and we've incorporated public testimony into the maps. They're on every website in the state that I can find. People can look at them."

Democrats also are criticizing what they call the unfair dilution of black and Hispanic voting strength for state Senate districts in Indianapolis and Fort Wayne by dividing those cities up with districts that reach into suburban areas for Republican voters.

"When you see communities divided up like that they usually try to dilute one party or the other," said Pierce, the Democratic legislator from Bloomington. "The pattern appears to be there in both the House and the Senate maps."

Senate Elections Committee Chairwoman Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake, said Fort Wayne doesn't qualify for a minority population district and that the Indianapolis districts have been carefully drawn to conform with federal voting rights laws.

"We always have reached out into the collar counties ... just because of the numbers and preserving the minority districts," Landske said. "We did not want to dilute the minority vote. There is more representation in the Senate than there would be otherwise."


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