The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, July 18, 2017 1:00 am

Rally protests gerrymandering

Push to form bipartisan panel to draw districts

NIKI KELLY | The Journal Gazette

INDIANAPOLIS – Another year without redistricting reform means another pseudo-birthday celebration for the man who notoriously created so-called gerrymandering.

About 100 Hoosiers gathered at the Statehouse on Monday to acknowledge Elbridge Gerry's contribution and to push Indiana lawmakers to implement a bipartisan redistricting commission.

It's not the first party thrown for Gerry but advocates like Kathy Zoucha and Jorge Fernandez, both of Fort Wayne, hope it's the last.

They and others want 2018 to be the year that Indiana lawmakers craft a law allowing a bipartisan panel to draw state and federal legislative districts. The Indiana General Assembly would still have to approve them.

“We are not asking for a perfect system,” Fernandez said. “We are asking for a better system.”

Zoucha said the system should be of, by and for the “people” instead of for the politicians.

Both she and Fernandez have run unsuccessfully as Democrats in local districts.

But there are Republicans who support the measure, too – including a group called Enterprise Republicans. And Carmel Republican Rep. Jerry Torr offered a bill to move to an outside panel drawing the districts this year.

It received a hearing in the House but no vote. In the past it has at least passed the House, but then Senate Republicans blocked it.

At Monday's event, a birthday cake featuring the “gerrymonster” was served – in curious shapes and sizes – and there was a pin the tail on the gerrymonster game.

In 2016, 44 of 100 Indiana House Districts were uncontested and 10 out of 25 Senate districts had no opposition.

Supporters believe the districts are drawn using demographic and political data so that it is virtually impossible for the party out of power to make inroads.

One state lawmaker attended Monday's event – Rep. Carey Hamilton, D-Indianapolis. She said gerrymandering “weakens our democracy” and “renders our electoral process ... less fair.”

She noted her district is very competitive and she has to work hard everyday to interact with all of her constituents. But she noted most seats are safe, which rewards partisan extremism and makes it harder to work across the aisle.

Gerry was a Founding Father who signed the Declaration of Independence. But he is best known as the Massachusetts governor who, in 1812, signed into law a Senate district with boundaries so contorted – drawn to aid his political party – that it resembled a salamander.

This practice has continued into modern times by both Republicans and Democrats, said Julia Vaughn, Common Cause Indiana policy director.

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