By Janet Williams
INDIANAPOLIS – Two state Senate Republicans are introducing legislation to create a commission of lawmakers and the public to draw legislative district boundaries following the 2020 census.
John Ruckelshaus, of Indianapolis, and Mike Bohacek, of Michiana Shores, said Monday that they are responding to strong demand from their constituents to create a redistricting process that is open and fair.
Democrats in the Indiana House and Senate have made redistricting reform a top priority in the 2018 legislative session, which begins Jan. 3. Legislation that would have created a nonpartisan commission to draw district lines died in a House committee in March when Rep. Milo Smith, R-Columbus, refused to call for a vote on the measure.
Ruckelshaus said the bill he is introducing is similar to the one that died in the last session. The measure, Senate Bill 159, would create a nine-member redistricting commission composed of four lawmakers – one from each of the caucuses – and five members of the public. Public members would be selected by a committee of public university presidents.
The legislative maps drawn by the commission would then be subject to the approval of the Indiana General Assembly.
“We are driven to make this process as transparent a process as possible,” Ruckelshaus said, adding that the issue has been raised at every town hall event he has had with constituents this year.
Bohacek, in a statement, also said that a transparent process was important to him, adding, “I look forward to future conversations on how we can make redistricting more effective here in the state of Indiana.”
Ruckelshaus was himself the victim of gerrymandering in the early 1990s when Democrats controlled the process and drew a map that put him in the same district as another Republican House member.
He said he has been working with Julia Vaughn of Common Cause on the legislation. Vaughn has been crisscrossing the state to rally public support for the redistricting reform.
Indiana’s state and congressional district boundaries are considered among the most gerrymandered in the country. For example, even though Democratic House candidates got 40 percent of the popular vote in 2016, they ended up with only 30 percent of the seat in the General Assembly.
State Rep. Ryan Hatfield, D-Evansville, said he hopes Republicans take the legislation seriously and allow lawmakers to vote on the issue.
“Gerrymandering has been done by both parties over the decades,” Hatfield said. “Simply because both parties have done it doesn’t make it right.”
Janet Williams is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.