Monday afternoon was the last meeting of Indiana’s Interim Study Committee on Redistricting.
The good news: by a vote of 8 to 3, the committee recommended major reforms, including that district maps be drawn by an independent commission. (For details, you can visit the websites of either Common Cause of Indiana or that of the Indiana League of Women Voters.)
The cautionary news: the recommended legislation will have to pass both the Indiana House and the Indiana Senate, both with Republican super-majorities.
I will readily admit that when I was asked to serve as a lay member of that committee, I had no expectations that we would actually produce a recommendation for change, let alone that such a recommendation would be the product of a bipartisan vote. (I used to be an optimist, but reality has beaten me down…)
The committee was chaired by Representative Jerry Torr, a Republican who demonstrated admirable civility, fairness and open-mindedness, and who ultimately supported the recommendation for reform.
Open-mindedness was rather conspicuously lacking from the three “no” voters, Brant Hershman, Pat Miller and Beverly Gard. All three came into the process determined to deep-six any proposed reforms, and Miller and Hershman made no bones about it. Hershman had voted against even constituting the committee, and both he and Miller continued to insist that there was no problem with Indiana’s maps, despite hours of public testimony and substantial research evidence to the contrary.
The ultimate prospects for reform now rest with the citizens of Indiana, who will need to display to their elected Senators and Representatives the same support for change that they displayed during the public meetings of the Interim Study Committee. They packed the House Chambers, contacted committee members and made it clear that the status quo is unacceptable.
What is gratifying about the outpouring of public support for gerrymandering reform is that it is evidence that the public has caught on to the importance of systemic control mechanisms. Voters have finally recognized that going to the polls and casting a ballot is meaningless if the district in which they are voting has been rendered uncompetitive.
The recent book Ratfucked spelled out how the Republicans gerrymandered districts after the last census–and how the Democrats were asleep at the switch as that very sophisticated effort made the U.S. House unwinnable for Democrats for the foreseeable future. A recent report from Politico suggests the Democrats got the message:
As Democrats aim to capitalize on this year’s Republican turmoil and start building back their own decimated bench, former Attorney General Eric Holder will chair a new umbrella group focused on redistricting reform — with the aim of taking on the gerrymandering that’s left the party behind in statehouses and made winning a House majority far more difficult.
The new group, called the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, was developed in close consultation with the White House. President Barack Obama himself has now identified the group — which will coordinate campaign strategy, direct fundraising, organize ballot initiatives and put together legal challenges to state redistricting maps — as the main focus of his political activity once he leaves office.
It would be nice to have a democracy where voters choose their representatives, instead of the other way around.