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Gerrymandering a bipartisan issue

State needs independent redistricting commission

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Illustration by Sterling Clark

It was June 2019, 17 months before the 2020 midterm elections, when Indiana’s 5th Congressional District representative, Susan Brooks, announced she would not seek reelection.

In a five-page statement released by her office to supporters and the media, the four-term Republican member of Congress said she wanted to spend more time with her family. She said she was “ready to focus on the people who’ve done so much to support and care for me throughout my career.”

But many politics watchers at the time wondered whether her internal polling showed a changing demographic in the 5th District.

In the 2018 general election, the incumbent Brooks defeated Democrat Dee Thornton by 14 points. Two years later, Republican Victoria Spartz knocked off Democrat Christina Hale by just 4 points.

“Congresswoman Brooks’ decision to step aside reaffirms just how quickly the political landscape is shifting toward Hoosier Democrats in places like the Indianapolis suburbs,” then Indiana Democratic Party chairman John Zody said after Brooks’ retirement announcement. “Sen. John Donnelly won [the 5th District] in 2018, and legislative candidates made seismic gains there last fall.”

The population center of the 5th District is Hamilton County, between 2010 and 2020 the 41st fastest growing county in the nation, reports U.S. News and World Report. In 2010, the county had 276,509 residents, according the Census data. In 2020, it was 347,467 – a 23.1% population boom.

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It’s safe to assume not all of those 70,958 new Hamilton County residents are Republicans. But the Indiana House GOP ensured the 5th District would stay reliably Republican for the next few years.

New congressional maps, released last week by House Republicans, moved a portion of usually Democratic Marion County from the 5th District to the 7th District, and added the western half of Howard County to the 5th District from the 4th District.

The state Democratic Party accused House Republicans of favoring “themselves over Hoosier voters”, or, in a word: gerrymandering. Merriam-Webster defines gerrymandering as “to divide (a territorial unit) into election districts to give one political party an electoral majority in a large number of districts while concentrating the voting strength of the opposition in as few districts as possible.”

Gerrymandering was an issue former Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma promised to address back in 2016. But a bill establishing a bipartisan, independent redistricting commission never made it to committee before Bosma’s retirement in 2020.

Both Indiana Democrats and Republicans have benefited from gerrymandering in the past. This time, the GOP is set to reap the rewards for the next 10 years. Today, we can only hope another Republican picks up the legislative baton Bosma dropped and keeps discussion of an independent redistricting commission alive in Indiana.

Short-term gains for one party or the other shouldn’t come before voters’ rights to be represented equitably.

- Kokomo Perspective