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Draw legislative districts for the people, not the politicians

By Scott Tibbs, February 11, 2011

The Herald-Times had a good editorial on Sunday about the upcoming redistricting of state legislative districts and the need to avoid gerrymandering those districts. Because the districts are so gerrymandered, a huge number of legislative districts did not have any major party opposition in the general election.

Leading Republicans have promised to draw boundaries that make geographical sense, rather than to maximize the political power of one party or another. After the shamelessly gerrymandered maps the Democrats passed in 2001, that would be a welcome change. The Congressional districts make absolutely no sense, especially the 4th District, which was drawn to pack as many Republicans in as possible.

Congressional districts are easier, because they have a much higher profile than state legislative districts. It is those legislative districts where the rubber meets the road. That is where incumbent legislators will have the most temptation to draw maps that will ensure their re-election every year through at least the 2010 census. This is where reform will be more difficult to implement, which is why an open process (and a vigilant press) is necessary.

It makes sense to stack the house districts on top of the senate districts. There are 100 seats in the house and 50 in the senate, so it should be relatively simple to draw two house districts within the boundaries of each senate district. This would simplify the process for the people of Indiana and make it easier for people to determine who their legislators are. Obviously, this would require a great deal of cooperation between the two chambers.

Some Republicans argue that because the Democrats have gerrymandered in the past, we should take this opportunity to draw districts that are favorable to Republicans. It is possible to draw districts that make geographical sense but still benefit your party. However, Republicans can take a leadership role here by resisting that temptation.

There is also a political benefit for Governor Mitch Daniels, who is frequently mentioned as a possible candidate for President in 2012. Leading his fellow Republicans to eschew gerrymandering would be seen as a practical and bipartisan step in reforming government and making it more accountable. With all of the talk about bipartisanship, this is a concrete step that Daniels can use to bolster his credentials while advancing a policy that benefits all Hoosiers.