Rethinking Republican Redistricting: Republican Gerrymandering

If you are like too many folks in the state you haven’t paid enough attention to the upcoming redistricting process our state will be going through in 2011 following the 2010 census.

If you have relied on The Indianapolis Star to feed you information on the topic, you are sorely undernourished. Last Sunday’s editorial page offered both sides of the issue: Republican Secretary of State Todd Rokita’s and the Republican President Pro Temp of the Senate, David Long’s. It’s like that scene in The Blues Brothers.

“What kinda music you usually play in here?”

“Oh we got both kinds: country and western.”

Thanks for the in-depth coverage Star. No wonder newspapers are going the way of the dodo and ash trees.

Basically, the difference between these two warring camps is that Senate Republican Mensheviks just want to pass legislation to gerrymander the state in favor of multi-decade Republican hegemony while the Bolsheviks in Rokita’s camp must have an amendment to the state constitution tying the hands of the legislature and creating an even more entrenched Republican oligarchy, all in the name of fairness.

Don’t get ALO wrong, this is not an argument against any and all forms of redistricting reform. There have been all sorts of positive redistricting proposals submitted over the years in our state, very rarely are they supported by Republicans unless it gives them an advantage.

10.     Rokita says Republican redistricting proposals will result in more competitive districts: MYTH!

In Mr. Rokita’s proposals he claims that in 2004 “47 percent of all races and 60 percent of state Senate races had no opponent.” We’ll take him at his word on this one. Yet, we see nothing in his proposal that would address this.

By simply saying you will “keep communities of interest together, following known community boundaries, compactness and eliminating the use of partisan data for gain” you do not increase competitiveness. In fact, you are more likely to exacerbate the situation.

First of all, what exactly are “communities of interest?” No one really knows. But this type of an effort will call on our state to define them.

According to noted NYU political scientist Justin Levitt in a paper for the Brennan Center for Justice, there are seventeen states that have defined a community of interest and each varies greatly.

While we are certain that Mr. Rokita knows what he thinks a community of interest is, it would certainly be interesting and perhaps terrifying to ask the Indiana General Assembly to create such a definition.

Another noted NYU professor Elizabeth OuYang explains that a “community of interest” exists where “residents share substantial cultural, economic, political, and social ties.”

Even if you like that definition, Ms. OuYang is not a member of the Indiana General Assembly and therefore is unlikely to have a hand in writing the definition for the state.

When he talks about following recognized community boundaries we will give Mr. Rokita the benefit of a doubt that he means township and county lines and city and town boundaries, but we know that those are not the only communities of interest the that were envisioned by the Supreme Court.

But most importantly, these limits are likely to tie hands when attempting to create more competitive districts. Especially if you do not have past voting records to go by. NYU’s Mr. Levitt admits that, “it is very unlikely that you will create more districts that are competitive without analyzing political data.”

What does a community do ten years after they have been redistricted in Rokita’s manner and they still have never seen the vote totals move, still have seen no increase in competitiveness.  We hear no remedy being put forth by the Secretary or anyone else for that matter to remonstrate against a new district that is less fairly drawn. Except filing suit in court.

Simply saying your proposal is fairer, don’t, as the song says, necessarily make it so.

If Mr. Rokita is so alarmed at the fact that 60 percent of Senate districts were without a competitor, then why does he want the Senate districts to be the nests into which he will cram two House districts?

We will talk more about his beloved concept of “nesting” in a later installment, but suffice it to say, he isn’t really that concerned with creating more competitive districts as much as he is concerned with creating more districts that are competitive for Republicans.

Why? So he can become a hero of the party and become the next gubernatorial standard bearer for the Republicans. Why else trot out a proposal you wont be around to see come to fruition except to stump it to every Lincoln Day Dinner you can?

It’s a racket and he is already known for those.