INDIANAPOLIS | Legislative elections always affect the short-term future of the state, but the Nov. 2 general election will determine public policy for the next decade.
That's because one task lawmakers must accomplish when the Indiana General Assembly convenes in January is drawing new legislative district boundaries using the results of the 2010 census.
Depending on which political party draws the maps, the decennial redistricting could be used to keep one party in power and in control of public policy until 2021.
The battle comes down to which party wins the Indiana House. Democrats currently hold a 52-48 edge, but Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels is spending millions through his Aiming Higher fund to try to win GOP control of the House. Republicans hold an insurmountable majority in the Senate.
If Republicans take control of both chambers, they could make safe Democratic seats in Lake County more competitive and design districts elsewhere that ensure a Republican advantage for the next decade. House Speaker Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, said Hoosiers should elect Democrats this year to make sure the redistricting process is bipartisan.
State Sen. Karen Tallian, D-Ogden Dunes, thinks politics shouldn't determine representation at all. The Indiana Constitution requires the General Assembly to set district boundaries, but Tallian wants an independent commission to draw the maps, which would then be approved by legislators.
"The public seems to like the idea of removing politics from this process and getting redistricting accomplished fairly for each legislative district," Tallian said. At least 21 states already use some form of independent redistricting commission.
Secretary of State Todd Rokita, a Munster native, failed earlier this year to persuade lawmakers to require districts be normally shaped, not break cities into several districts and respect shared "communities of interest." The only requirement in Indiana law is that all parts of the district be contiguous.
"Allowing politicians to view your voting history in order to create legislative boundaries means our elected leaders are picking their voters," Rokita said. "Developing a new process that puts people before politics will create more competitive districts requiring elected officials to pay more attention to the needs of their constituents rather than needs of their political parties."
During the 2001 redistricting, Democrats controlled the House, Republicans ruled the Senate and Democrat Frank O'Bannon was governor. The battle over the maps lasted until the final days of the legislative session in April. House Republicans even staged a walkout and boycott of the chamber for two days to protest perceived unfairness in the mapmaking.
House Republican Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said at the time the maps were unfair because they disregarded geographic boundaries and were drawn to politically advantage Democrats. However, Bosma was still able to win enough seats to preside over a GOP majority in the House from 2005-07.
Earlier this month, Bosma told reporters that if he is elected speaker of a GOP-controlled House this November, redistricting would be conducted fairly and protect the interests of the minority party.
"It is my personal goal that we have the opportunity to restore the civility that really was part of this chamber when a few of us were elected here quite some time ago," he said.