Democrats to control Indy council redistricting for first time since Uni-Gov

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For the first time since Indianapolis moved to consolidated city-county government in 1970, Democrats will be in the driver’s seat next year as new districts are drawn for City-County Council seats.

State lawmakers already have completed the once-a-decade, highly partisan task of drawing new maps for Indiana’s legislative and congressional districts, based on the 2020 census. Now, Indianapolis and local governments across the state must draw new districts for local offices by November 2022.

Indianapolis’ redistricting has been bitterly contested in recent decades, as Democrats came closer and closer to ending long-time Republican control of the City-County Council. 

Outgoing Republicans drew Indianapolis’ current council maps in 2011. Republican Mayor Greg Ballard signed them into law Jan. 1, 2012, the same day the council’s first Democratic majority took office.

Maggie Lewis, then council president, sued. The case went to the Indiana Supreme Court, which sided with Ballard.

Redistricting in the early 2000s didn’t go any smoother. Democrat Mayor Bart Peterson vetoed maps from the Republican majority, which devolved into its own state Supreme Court case. It was also decided in favor of the GOP. 

This time around, Democrats will be in control. 

Democrats flipped six seats in the 2019 municipal elections, locking in a 20-5 supermajority. And they’ve got a fellow Democrat as mayor.

Council Vice President Zach Adamson, a Democrat, told IBJ that today’s already-steep party imbalance might be as good as it gets for Republicans.

“The maps that we have right now were drawn by the Republicans in order to give them an advantage in the 2015 election. … So, we can’t devise more competitive maps than the ones already designed to give advantage to the minority,” Adamson said.

Council Minority Leader Brian Mowery, a Republican, disputed the gerrymandering accusation, saying, “It’s a little absurd to say that it was drawn in just our favor. Look at the makeup of the body since we’ve through those maps. … These are the same maps we’re on right now, and we’re at a 20-5 deficit.

Adamson said he wants to focus on making districts compact and keeping communities of interest together “so that they can have a councilor who can focus on those interests.”

That means following—where possible—major physical divides, like highways and waterways, plus neighborhood boundaries, Adamson said. Under the current maps, for example, the Fountain Square neighborhood is split between three councilors. 

Mowery said he would also like to see compact districts keep communities of interest together. “We want to make sure everybody gets their chance to have input,” he said, “whether that be one of the 25 councilors, or whether it be a constituent.”

To that end, Mowery suggested holding public hearings like those offered during the state redistricting process, giving both caucuses a budget to draw maps and creating a bipartisan commission of lawmakers to work on the redistricting.

Indianapolis has set aside $300,000 for the redistricting process, according to budget slides presented to councilors. They’ll likely kick off the process with a community engagement and civic education campaign.

But nothing is certain. In the wild world of Indianapolis redistricting, most anything can happen amid the partisan jousting. In 2013, the Republican-controlled Legislature stepped in and eliminated four at-large City-County Council seats, all filled by Democrats at the time. 

Across the state, early prep work for redistricting at the local level already is happening behind the scenes.

Indiana’s 92 counties get the option to review their voting precinct boundaries. And it’s crunch time. A six-month delay in 2020 Census data meant participating counties had to cram the six-month reprecincting process into about six weeks, according to a memo from the Indiana Election Division.

Proposed reprecincting orders were due to the election division last Friday, and they’ll need to be approved and in place before January 5.

In Indianapolis, which has a consolidated city-county government, the mayor runs reprecincting instead of a county commissioner. Mayor Joe Hogsett‘s office said it brought in law firm Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath to advise the process and help with the GIS mapping software.

The council is light on institutional knowledge—only a few current councilors and nonpartisan council office staff were in their roles during the last round of redistricting. 

“We certainly want to rely on whatever institutional knowledge exists, and have that help inform whatever decisions we make,” said Brandon Herget, the council office’s CFO and policy director. “That being said, I think we want to be intentional about doing this process differently than it’s been done before. Institutional knowledge will always play a role, but if we’re going to break the mold, then it will have its limitations.” 

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18 thoughts on “Democrats to control Indy council redistricting for first time since Uni-Gov

    1. You can be sure they will, Micah D. Democrats always “do something.” It’s usually the wrong thing, but they do it anyway….and leave it to future generations to live with the consequences.

  1. Has Indy fared better since Democrats have controlled the Council, the Mayors office and chosen the police chief?
    How’s crime, poverty, roads, schools……….?
    Please look at all the cities that democrats control. Is that what we are to become?

    1. Two things:

      1) What’s the Republican alternative? What’s the plan for 2023? A reminder that crime got worse between 2015 and 2019 … and Hogsett won by a larger percentage after James Merritt ran the worst campaign ever, also causing the Republicans to get wiped out on the CCC.
      2) Recent census data shows that people are fleeing the Republican, rural parts of Indiana to live closer to the big cities. Why is that?

    2. You think it was better when Mayor Ballard was in office with a Republican council? I’m a Republican and let me assure you it was not. Taxes were going way up under Ballard and the murder rate was soaring. The streets often went unplowed and Ballard had nutty ideas like having taxpayers build a cricket stadium.Ballard supported like 40 tax and fee increases at least and the GOP Council went along with most of them.

      In Indianapolis, both parties are controlled by developers, contractors and big law firms. Both parties support tax increases to give more money to those folks. Again, though locally both parties are in bed when it comes to corporate welfare. Not a dime difference between the Rs and Ds.

    1. If Democrats are really running the city into the ground, why is Indianapolis the fastest growing area in Indiana? Why are Democrats starting to get elected in the suburbs? Sorry, but the GOP is steadily declining because they stand for absolutely nothing.

  2. Indianapolis should model for the General Assembly what drawing fair legislative districts looks like. The mayor could appoint a nonpartisan panel to oversee the redistricting in Marion County, something legislative Republicans failed to do when they recently approved gerrymandered state maps.

    It would be an object lesson in nonpartisan leadership for the General Assembly to learn.

    1. That’s adorable.

      I know the Democrats are stupid, but do you think they are THAT stupid?

      If Republicans wanted non-partisan redistricting in Indianapolis, maybe they should have taken the first step and not passed the maps they did to gerrymander the entire state of Indiana. They could’ve easily drawn fair maps and still had sizable majorities in both the House and the Senate. But they didn’t, so they can just sit there and take it when it comes to Marion County redistricting. Republicans drew the Marion County maps last time and they have done nothing but lose since.

      I mean, the only place that Republicans are electable is on the southside of Marion County. How exactly do Republicans expect to draw their maps to give them anything more than a handful of seats?

      Besides, Republicans will use their freshly gerrymandered seats in the legislature to do whatever they want to the city of Indianapolis; Republicans only believe in local control when they are in control. Jack Sandlin, Aaron Freeman, and Mike Young are the barriers to progress for the city of Indianapolis.

      I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; the Marion County GOP is as useless as the Indiana Democratic Party.

  3. I chose to move out of Indianapolis. The waste in caring for indigents and gun shot victims at Eskanazi I choose to not see my tax dollars going down that endless drain. The streets in Indianapolis are deplorable…..pick a street. No…….social programs will continue to be the order of business for Dumb-o-crats who portend they know all about what and how a City government should operate and function.
    Fund infrastructure and public safety (fire, police and building and health code operations only). Let the private sector function in the meantime. In turn, people will have jobs and monetary contributions and donations by those who work will get to the social program entities. I’m quite tired of handouts and waste in government. Stay out of my wallet Dumb-o-crats!!!!!!!!!!! Same message to the Unite States government.

    1. Yep, let’s get rid of government social programs … starting with Medicare. Those old people are full of pre-existing conditions anyway.

  4. Yeah all the dems that complained about the state poly tics will do the exact same thing, draw the lines to favor themselves. Term limits and max amount of $$’s a campaign can use is one solution. Until we get big $$’s out and term limits in it will be a system where those in power will work not for everyone but to keep themselves in power.

  5. It’s funny. I remember seeing a lot of the same commenters who are defending the gerrymandering that is about to be enacted in Indy decry the gerrymandering at the state level because it benefited the Republicans. How awful it was, how it was such a threat to democracy, etc., etc. But Lo! When Democrats do it on the City-County Council, well, that’s just fine. I don’t like gerrymandering, but at least I recognize that that’s the way it is, and I’m not going to sit here and cry for the utterly inept Marion County GOP, the way some of these same people did for the Indiana Democrat Party. As Obama said, elections have consequences, and if somehow we were all transported to an alternative universe in which the Democrats ran Indiana, the General Assembly would be about as Republican as the City-County Council is gonna be in a few months.

    I agree with Joe B. about Jim Merritt’s utterly incompetent non-campaign in 2019. I also remember hearing radio ads from some female Republican County Councilor endorsing Boss Hoggsett, and I knew then that he was gonna win and that the Marion County GOP was doomed, although I never saw the wipeout that in fact unfolded that year. Joe B. is also right about the Marion County GOP and the Indiana Democrats being equally useless. Again, elections have consequences.

    If Marion County Republicans ever get tired of being in the extreme minority, maybe they should start thinking about how to reach new voters and how to have a message that resonates with majorities. Likewise for Indiana Democrats. Let’s see, we’ve got two US Senators, a governor (such as he is) and an attorney general, all of whom are elected statewide. How many of those were won by Indiana Democrats? Exactly none. So quit whining about how mean the Republicans in the General Assembly are and learn how to appeal to majorities. And the same goes for Marion County Republicans who will probably have to wander in the desert for 40 years until they figure it out.

  6. All this battling for supremacy is not helping the average tax payer. The Republicans didn’t let the city burn at the hands of BLM rioters nor let panhandlers and homeless scum up the entire downtown and in general make the process of building and keeping the downtown what was envisioned over 40 years ago.
    Murder is on par with Chicago and they can shout “gun violence” all they want but we all know its drugs that are the problem. What have the Democrats done about that other than sign on to the national plan to have cameras everywhere see what happened but not really do anything about it.

    1. So, Neil, what’s the Republican alternative? What’s their plan for 2023? Why aren’t they out there selling their plan?

      It all well and good to say the other side stinks. It’s sometimes correct. But there need to be a better campaign plan than … didn’t you hear me, the other side stinks? That works on occasion (Ballard, 2009) but it takes a lot of factors for that long shot to play off.

      In my mind, here’s the dilemma … Republicans would only have a chance in Marion County with a candidate that their base voters would call a RINO and despise. Like if Bill Oesterle was physically well enough to run? He might be the type who can break through and win, but it would take a big lift and a lot of money and I don’t think the Indiana GOP cares. They can just impose their will via the Statehouse.

  7. For a bunch of people who’ve never seen Indy Democrats draw any maps, much less partisan gerrymandered maps, you seem to have a lot to say about how it’ll be done now that Dems have the chance to do it.
    Try this on for size.
    In 2011, when we legally SHOULD have had our maps, we outsourced the drawing of maps to the same body the Indiana supreme court did back in 2001. An independent, out of state commission. When Dems had the chance, we didn’t do them under lock and key or cover of darkness. It didn’t happen by us at all, in fact.
    I don’t expect those simple facts to matter to people programed to ignore facts. Facts do, as they say, have a liberal bias.