BRIAN HOWEY: It's time to explore new maps for competitive Hoosier political districts

2013-02-07T11:08:00Z 2013-02-07T18:20:12Z BRIAN HOWEY: It's time to explore new maps for competitive Hoosier political districtsBy Brian Howey nwitimes.com
February 07, 2013 11:08 am  • 

INDIANAPOLIS | The first actual election results of the new Indiana Congressional and legislative maps drawn in 2011 are in, and the results still reveal a flawed process.

According to November election returns from the Indiana secretary of state, about 2.5 million votes were cast in the nine congressional district races: 1.3 million votes (53.12 percent) for Republican candidates, 1.1 million votes (44.49 percent) for Democrats and 59,088 votes (2.39 percent) for Libertarians.

The result: Republicans carried seven of the nine congressional districts. Only the 2nd District race – with Republican U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski winning by fewer than 5,000 votes – was competitive, despite speculation after the maps were created that this district was going to be overwhelmingly GOP.

U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky -- in the heavily Democratic Northwest Region -- and Andre Carson in Indianapolis were the only Democratic House winners, representing a mere 22 percent of the districts.

Republican Indiana House candidates carried about 54 percent of the total vote but won 69 of the 100 seats. A late January Public Opinion Strategies Poll conducted on behalf of the Indiana Association of Realtors revealed that if elections were held then, 41 percent said they would vote for Indiana General Assembly Republicans and 37 percent would vote for Democrats, with 20 percent undecided.

Nationally, Democratic U.S. House candidates polled 49.1 percent and Republicans 48.1 percent. But thanks to GOP control of some 30 legislatures in 2010 -- which determined which party wouid draw the new maps -- Republicans ended up with a 234-201 House majority.

It’s important to note that this shoe has been on the other foot. Indiana Democrats drew the maps in 1991 and 2001, and while Republicans routinely carried a majority of the Indiana House vote (in the 53 percent to 55 percent range) over those two decades, Democrats were able to control the House more than half of the time.

Just because both parties do everything they can for a tilted playing field doesn’t make it right.

In 2011, House Speaker Brian C. Bosma, R-Indianapolis, and Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne, were supportive of a constitutional amendment creating a non-partisan, independent redistricting commission.

Bosma said, “There are questions about the viability of it. I have spoken with leaders in other states that have redistricting commissions, and they get mixed reviews.”

In 2011, Bosma wrote, “Currently, the Indiana Constitution requires the General Assembly to approve maps, and that is what needs to happen in 2011...Rep. Jerry Torr and I have once again coauthored House Joint Resolution 9 to begin the process of revising our constitution to allow an independent commission to tackle the job in the future.”

Long explained two years ago, “I am confident a transparent, open approach to the 2011 redistricting process that utilizes the new criteria proposed can create the fairest, most representative districts ever drawn in our state."

The new criteria called for new districts to follow county and township lines, to “nest” two House disricts into a Senate district, to maintain “communities of interest” and to forego the use of “political data” in their creation.

The new maps do look more compact, unlike the lizard-shaped gerrymandered maps of 1991 and 2001, but the results appear to reveal a GOP advantage.

Republican U.S. Rep. Todd Rokita pushed redistricting reform during his final two years as Indiana secretary of state. But he told me, “I advocated for keeping it in the hands of the General Assembly but with tight parameters that would be in statute."

And Rokita asked me what the goal should be.

“Competitive districts no matter what the voter makeup (more exciting election cycles), or districts that when considered together fairly reflect the voters?” he asked.

He cited former State Rep. Ed Mahern, who drew the Democrat maps in 2001. “Mahern’s districts were extremely competitive, and they were the worst gerrymandered mess anyone had ever seen,” Rokita said.

Ironically, Mahern lost in a district he created for himself.

All of this should be pondered by voters. We have eight years before we create new maps.

Brian Howey is publisher of Howey Politics Indiana. Follow him on Twitter @hwypol. The opinion expressed in this column is the writer's.

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