Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Indiana lawmakers about to tackle redistricting

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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — For all the turmoil that's hit the Indiana Legislature this year, the most unavoidably political action it faces is just about to arrive.

Republicans have begun work to redraw the political maps for the state's 150 legislative and nine congressional districts, a task done every decade based on new U.S. Census figures. And what those maps look like may depend, as one Democratic lawmaker says, on how “mean” the GOP wants to be.

Republicans believed they were thwarted for much of the past decade by Democrat-drawn House maps — and Democrats are braced for the worst in return now that the GOP has solid majorities in the House and Senate.

Those overseeing the redistricting process have been tight-lipped on any details about the new computer-generated maps, not even specifying when the public will have its first look at the proposed districts.

House Speaker Brian Bosma says he expects a map for that chamber to be ready by the second week of April, while Senate Elections Committee Chairwoman Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake, said she hoped a Senate plan would be available April 11.

Even that would leave just three weeks before the scheduled end of the legislative session for public hearings and final votes.

Republican legislative leaders and GOP Gov. Mitch Daniels, to whom the maps will go for his approval or veto, have repeatedly said that they intend to draw districts that are compact and respect county, city and town boundaries while complying with federal laws such as those regarding minority voting rights.

“We’re trying to draw fair districts for the people in the state of Indiana,” said Republican Sen. Brandt Hershman of Lafayette, an elections committee member.

But Republicans also are quick to find faults with the Indiana House and congressional maps that Democrats drew 10 years ago when they controlled the House and the governor's office.

They point to machinations to stuff as many GOP-leaning areas as possible into the 4th congressional district — now held by Republican Rep. Todd Rokita — that stretches from north of Lafayette through the western and southern suburbs of Indianapolis to Bedford.

They also are critical of the 2nd district now held by a likely target — Democratic Rep. Joe Donnelly — because it stretches from the South Bend area to take in a small sliver that includes the city of Kokomo to make it more favorable for Democrats.

Democrats hit a high-water mark by holding five of the state’s nine congressional seats after the 2006 and 2008 elections. But Republicans won back two of those seats in last year’s elections, and GOP candidate Jackie Walorski has already announced another bid for the seat she narrowly lost to Donnelly.

Donnelly has said he would consider a run for Senate if his district is significantly redrawn.

State Rep. Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, said he expected the direction on the new congressional district will come from national Republicans. “I imagine they have ill intent toward the Democratic members of Indiana’s House delegation,” Pelath said. “It is just a matter of how mean they want to be.”

Population shifts alone might make the new political districts more friendly for Republicans.

Maps prepared by Indiana University’s Indiana Business Research Center show that most districts in urban and rural areas now have too few residents, while many suburban districts now held by Republicans have seen large population increases.

For instance, the district held by GOP Rep. Kathy Richardson of Noblesville has grown 95 percent since 2000, while the district of Democratic Rep. Vernon Smith of Gary has lost about 19 percent of its residents.

Conflicts over redistricting have prompted legislative walkouts in the past — although not as dramatic as the five-week boycott to Illinois by most House Democrats over education- and labor-related bills that ended on Monday.

It took a heated special session in 1991 for lawmakers to settle on the new maps. In 2001, outnumbered Republicans — led by now-Speaker Bosma — holed up for two days, refusing to take the floor in protest of the new Democrat-drawn districts.

Bosma said he intended to make sure that redistricting was finished by the Legislature's April 29 deadline and that national party groups weren’t providing the district plans.

The Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, backed by the League of Women Voters, AARP and other groups, has urged the Legislature to put together districts that emphasize competition and fairness, not incumbent protection and partisan advantage.

Jeff McDaniel, a government teacher at Rushville High School, told House and Senate election committee members at a public hearing that gerrymandered districts on all levels frustrate voters.

“That’s not the republic that our founders envisioned,” said McDaniel, who twice was a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Pelath, who is assistant minority leader in the House, said he wasn't optimistic that Republicans would keep their political knives sheathed and draw fair, nonpartisan districts.

“If they’re able to abide by those principles and not have political considerations win the day, it will be a pleasant surprise,” he said.


Posted 4/5/2011




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