Indiana House lawmakers approve redistricting maps

(Photo supplied/Indiana General Assembly)

The House has approved new maps of who represents you at the statehouse and in Washington.

Republicans boast they kept more than 90-percent of cities, towns and townships undivided on the Indiana House map, while just eight counties will be split between congressional districts. Avon Representative Greg Steuerwald, who drew the U-S and Indiana House maps, says he scrupulously followed a 33-page memo outlining requirements under state and federal law, plus nonbinding goals of keeping districts compact and communities of interest together. That meant not only leaving cities in one piece, but recognizing other interests which cross county boundaries, like communities bordering Lake Michigan.

Democrats charge the new districts unfairly lock in Republicans’ supermajority at the statehouse and their 7-2 control of the congressional delegation. Indianapolis Representative Ed DeLaney argues the lopsided party balance not only leaves Democrats without a voice, but Republicans too — he says a Republican who wants to go against the caucus has no hope of success. And Bloomington Representative Matt Pierce argues the top priority shouldn’t be neatly-shaped districts with regular shapes, but competitive ones, so legislators have to work together.

House Elections Chairman Tim Wesco (R-Osceola) responds bizarrely-shaped districts have been the traditional focal point of redistricting reform activists. He says districts shaped like “mushrooms” or “jigsaw puzzles” on the current map were a recurring voter complaint during a week of hearings around the state before the new maps were drawn, and says the new map addresses those concerns.

Democrats unsuccessfully introduced an alternative House map which ignored county lines and neat shapes to produce districts Pierce says would lean 59-41 to Republicans. He calculates Republicans start from a 69-seat baseline on the House-approved map — two fewer than they currently hold, but with fewer swing districts.

The new congressional map shores up freshman Republican Congresswoman Victoria Spartz, but pits six pairs of Indiana House Republican incumbents against each other in the same districts. Two of those incumbents have already announced their retirements, and a third, Salem Representative Steve Davisson, died on Sunday, leaving it unclear which district his replacement will be in on the new map.

Three Republicans joined Democrats in voting against the maps. Bloomington Representative Jeff Ellington says the Crane Naval Surface Warfare Center’s connection to I-U should have kept it in his district as a community of interest. Indianapolis Representative John Jacob and Patoka Representative Matt Hostettler cast the other two Republican no votes.

The Senate will hold a public hearing on the maps Monday — the first hearing to include the proposed new Senate districts. A final Senate vote is planned on Friday. The House will reconvene Friday if there are any changes it needs to approve.

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