SOUTH BEND – That upcoming special session of the Indiana General Assembly for redistricting is the subject of many words, spoken in legislative hearings, written in editorials, and uttered in presentations by citizen groups. But what’s the word about what will happen?
     
Q. Will the Republican-dominated legislature refrain from partisan politics in drawing districts to reflect 2020 Census population changes?
     
A. No.
     
Q. So, will they draw districts that slither around like a salamander, just as in the first described gerrymander, named after Founding Father Elbridge Gerry, who drew the salamander shape in his redistricting plan while governor of Massachusetts?
     
A. No.
     
Q. Wait. Will they or will they not gerrymander?
     
A. Gerrymandering now is defined as drawing districts to give a political advantage. They will do that. They will gerrymander quite skillfully. But with computers to analyze each precinct change, it’s possible to draw partisan districts that are compact, no salamander shapes of the type Gerry drew in 1812.
     
Q. Then will most of the new Republican-drawn districts look nice and compact?
     
A. Yes. Current districts, drawn in the Republican-controlled gerrymander after the 2010 Census, were mostly nice in terms of being compact, and very nice politically for the GOP, leading to continuous super majorities in both houses of the state legislature and election of Republicans in seven of the nine congressional districts.
     
Q. What’s the No. 1 objective for Republican map makers this time?
     
A. Making the 5th Congressional District more Republican. That was the only one of the seven Republican districts where Democrats saw a chance for an upset in the 2020 election. The incumbent Republican had retired and the district, including suburban areas around Indianapolis, was trending more Democratic. While Republicans held on amid the Trump landslide, they don’t want to take a chance of losing the 5th and their 7-2 congressional margin in 2022 or in the rest of the decade.
     
Q. What will they do?
     
A. Most likely they will remove the northern slice of Marion County that now is in the district. It votes Democratic. If it were put in the 7th District, containing most of Indianapolis and written off by Republicans as one of the two Democratic districts, that could solve the problem. Other changes then needed for population reasons could, however, be unpopular with some of the Republican members of Congress.
     
Q. Members of Congress are involved?
     
A. You bet. None of the Republican incumbents want any changes in their districts that might endanger reelection.
     
Q. Will there be changes in the 2nd District, where Rep. Jackie Walorski has been winning in landslides?
     
A. Probably some. Every district stands to be changed at least a little as basically equal population sizes are sought. Walorski will of course oppose any changes to take away solid Republican areas.
     
Q. What about talk that Republicans could redistrict in a way to win even in the 1st District, centered around Lake County and the other district now surrendered to Democrats?
     
A. Too risky. They’d have to diminish Republican strength in the 2nd to do that, and if it backfired, Republicans could still fail in the 1st and endanger the 2nd.
     
Q. Will Republicans again draw districts for super majorities in the state legislature?
     
A. Of course. It’s the members of those super majorities who will approve the redistricting. They won’t vote to hurt their chances.
     
Q. On congressional redistricting, which do the map makers consider more important, fairness or making sure the U.S. House, as now expected, returns to Republican control?
     
A. There’s no doubt about the answer.
     
Q. So, what’s the word about redistricting?
     
A. It’s not just one word but the words of the political axiom going back to the days of Elbridge Gerry’s salamander: “It’s whether you win or lose, not how you gerrymander the game.”  

Colwell has covered Indiana politics over five decades for the South Bend Tribune.