Indiana lawmakers held hearings across the state this weekend to get public input on redistricting, or the process of redrawing legislative boundaries. The group held its last meeting of the weekend Saturday in Elkhart.
A panel of state legislators chaired by Rep. Tim Wesco (R-Osceola) heard citizen requests for the new maps, which are redrawn every 10 years. Many attendees took issue with the fact that whichever party controls the legislature is in charge of redrawing the legislative maps.
“You all and your colleagues have a vested interest in protecting your own re-election, and your parties have a vested interest in protecting their position in the legislature,” Stephen Drendall, an attendee from Granger, said. “It’s a blatant conflict of interest for you to be drawing and having the final say in maps.”
Instead, attendees called for lawmakers to commission an independent, bipartisan citizen group to redraw the maps.
The Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission (ICRC) formed to do just that. Comprised of three Republicans, three Democrats and three Independents, the group held its own public hearings earlier this year.
Leigh Morris, former mayor of LaPorte and a Republican member of the ICRC, spoke on behalf of the group.
“The ICRC wants to be a partner with you. We’re not an adversary –– we’re a partner with you, to help you get the job done,” Morris said. “We want to create a transparent process that gives people confidence that this is going to be a very positive step forward.”
Transparency was one of the main concerns at the Elkhart meeting. Since the U.S. Census Bureau delayed the release of its redistricting data till September, lawmakers weren’t able to present any proposed maps.
League of Women Voters of Elkhart County President Janet Evanega said in order to gain public trust, legislators need to conduct a second tour of the state after the maps are drawn and citizens have had at least 30 days to review them.
“After you’ve gone behind your closed doors, and after you have drawn your lines, you’ve got to come back and you’ve got to face us,” Evanega said. “You’ve got to look us in the eye and say, ‘This is why we did this.’”
Competitiveness was another main concern –– many attendees said that opposition candidates rarely run in their districts, and incumbents rarely debate them if they do.
Elkhart City Councilman Aaron Mishler said that was his experience when he ran for a state House seat last year.
“The reason I ran for Indiana House 48 was because no one else wanted to do it,” he said. “And the reason that nobody else wanted to do it is because they felt that the seat was so heavily gerrymandered that no matter how much money they raised, no matter how many doors they knocked on –– it was not going to matter.”
Attendees said they also wanted compact districts, where neighborhoods or townships wouldn’t be split by legislative lines.
At the end of the meeting, state Sen. Fady Qaddoura (D-Indianapolis) promised to advocate for a citizens’ redistricting commission –– even if it costs him his position in the legislature.
“I will oppose any Democrat or any Republican who is willing to sacrifice our democracy to win the next elections,” Qaddoura said. “I promise you, hypothetically, if the cost of getting an independent redistricting commission in Indiana is my seat, I will resign today.”
State Rep. Sue Errington (D-Muncie) said it’s up to citizens to hold lawmakers accountable for the new districts, and to make sure they include the requests from the hearings.
“My request to you is that you keep knocking on our doors to make sure we can’t ignore what you’ve said today and what you want to see,” she said.
Lawmakers will hold a final public hearing Wednesday, Aug. 11 at the Statehouse in Indianapolis.
Contact Gemma at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @gemma_dicarlo.
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