While attention is focused on Indiana’s noisy same-sex marriage debate, legislation that might have tempered Wednesday’s party-line committee vote had it already been in effect is moving along. A bill to establish an appointed redistricting commission would be an improvement on the current legislatively controlled redistricting process but with some changes could do much more to protect it from partisan influence.
House Bill 1032, which emerged from the Elections and Apportionment Committee on just the third day of the session, was quickly approved by the House and referred to the Senate. It would establish a bipartisan commission to create plans for drawing legislative and congressional maps, hold hearings and accept public comment on the plans and recommend proposals for redrawing districts after each 10-year census. Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, proposed an amendment to require discussions between lawmakers and committee members be public.
I want to make the committee as truly independent as possible, GiaQuinta said.
The proposal, however, still leaves the process with heavy partisan influence. Four of the commission members would be appointed by legislative leaders, one each by the Senate president pro tem, the speaker of the House, and the Senate and House minority leaders. The fifth member would be appointed by the other four and would serve as chairman.
While there are provisions in the bill to insulate the high-stakes process from politics, it is not foolproof. Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause of Indiana, noted that the provisions still would have allowed a former state GOP chairman to qualify as a member.
They talk about a bipartisan or a nonpartisan process – they aren’t going to get that if partisans appoint the committee, she said.
Vaughn points to California as a better redistricting model. The state’s 14-member redistricting commission is made up of five Republicans, five Democrats and four members who are registered with another party or claim no party affiliation. Nearly 30,000 Californians applied to serve when the commission was formed. A two-step process with strict guidelines determined the members. After hearing from the public and drawing maps for the congressional districts, 40 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts and four Board of Equalization districts, the California commission votes on the maps to be used until the next census.
I want us to do this right, Vaughn said of the Indiana legislation. This could be better than the status quo if the legislative leaders appoint the right people to the commission, but that’s a big if.’ I’ve seen that blow up in my face.
She is bringing in some muscle – literally – to push a citizen-controlled commission. Former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who took on a Democratic-controlled legislature to champion an overhaul there, has tentatively agreed to speak to the effort in Indiana. The actor-turned-GOP politician now counts the Citizens Redistricting Commission among his accomplishments.
If I have to bring in The Terminator,’ so be it, Vaughn said.
Indiana could use the push. While the state’s partisan split is roughly 54 percent Republican, 46 percent Democratic, the GOP holds seven of nine congressional seats. At the Statehouse, Republicans hold a 37-13 advantage in the Senate and 69 of 100 House seats.
As HJR 3 opponents were reminded Wednesday, elections matter. When it comes to elections, redistricting matters. Hoosiers should insist the General Assembly gets the process right.