The 2017 Indiana General Assembly is in full swing, and lots of important issues are getting their time in the legislative spotlight. Much time has already been spent discussing how to fund critical infrastructure improvements and how to address our state’s disturbing opioid addiction crisis. Unfortunately though, an issue that a growing number of Hoosiers understand is vital to the future of our state has been ignored so far.
House Bill 1014, legislation that would put a politically balanced and diverse group of Hoosier voters in charge of redistricting, has yet to receive a hearing in the House Elections Committee. If that doesn’t change soon, redistricting reform will be dead for this session. We can’t let that happen.
This issue is so important that the Indiana Bicentennial Visioning Project, led by the much-respected bipartisan team of former congressman Lee Hamilton and former lieutenant governor Sue Ellsperman identified ending gerrymandering as one of Indiana’s most important challenges as we enter our third century. Unfortunately, too many lawmakers are ignoring this call for change.
Legislators are offering a number of excuses for their reluctance. Since the Indiana Constitution gives responsibility for redistricting congressional and state legislative districts to the General Assembly, many say a citizens’ commission would be unconstitutional or can only be implemented through amending our constitution. Yet constitutional experts have signed off on HB 1014, noting that the General Assembly would still be charged with voting for or against the maps drawn by a citizens’ commission and could ultimately reject their recommendations entirely if they choose.
We’re also hearing from plenty of legislators who see no need for reform since they are getting re-elected with margins of 60 percent to 70 percent. They see this as affirmation of their hard work and superiority as candidates, not a result of lopsided districts designed to achieve a pre-ordained outcome and discourage serious challengers.
And apparently there is little concern about the large number of Indiana districts where Hoosier voters have no choice between major-party candidates in November because the only real contests come in the primary election. It is no wonder that a growing number of Hoosiers feel unrepresented in Washington, D.C., and in Indianapolis – they truly didn’t have any say in choosing their so-called representatives.
Hoosier voters want, and deserve, a bigger say in the redistricting of their communities. Voters have come to understand that the results of this decennial exercise will affect their choices at the polls for a decade and play a large part in determining who controls the legislative agenda at both the state and federal level and how accountable to voters these elected officials will be. An increasing number of Hoosiers understand that where the district lines fall really matters, and they are demanding change
Redistricting reform advocates were encouraged when late last year the Special Interim Committee on Redistricting, in a bipartisan vote, passed a recommendation in support of a citizens’ redistricting commission on to the full legislature. For a brief moment, it appeared this issue was gaining momentum, but sadly, that momentum has stalled. It will be up to citizens to get it back into the fast lane.
Let your state representative and state senator know you want an end to gerrymandering and a citizens’ redistricting commission in place before the next round of redistricting in 2021. Tell them we need a group that is truly independent of the legislature to draw the new maps and they must operate in a way that encourages public participation and that is fully transparent. Remind your legislators that it’s not their district, that it belongs to the voters and that we need to play a role in designing what they look like.
Fort Wayne-area legislators Sen. David Long and Rep. Christopher Judy are on the front line of this fight and need to hear from their constituents who want fair districts. Long is the top leader in the Senate, and his lack of support for reform has an extremely negative effect on its chances in that chamber. Judy is a member of the House Elections Committee, so if the bill does get a hearing, he will have an early opportunity to either help us regain momentum or send this issue into the ditch for this session.
Redistricting reform is stalled at the Indiana General Assembly and in desperate need of a jump-start. It’s time for Indiana voters to get the jumper cables and jolt our incumbent legislators out of their complacency. Let’s send a clear message that it’s time to put the people in charge of redistricting.