SOUTH BEND – St. Joseph County Democratic officials are aghast over the Republican-controlled Board of Commissioners hiring a former Republican House speaker and other attorneys that challenged Donald Trump’s election loss to redistrict in the county.
 
Aghast, I say, aghast! They are aghast that what they expect to be a blatant Republican gerrymander of the three commissioner districts is paid for by the taxpayers, with a commissioner-approved contract paying the attorneys up to $35,000 plus expenses.
     
Aghast, I say, aghast! They already were aghast over the Republican-controlled state legislature’s redistricting that leaves Republican Congresswoman Jackie Walorski with even a slightly more favorable district in which she could win reelections for a decade.
     
Aghast, I say, aghast! Should Democrats have been surprised? No. In the famous, oft-quoted words of William Marcy, a New York senator defending patronage clout of Andrew Jackson in 1832, “To the victor belong the spoils.”
     
Patronage has weakened, but 189 years later, the party controlling redistricting still gets in most of the country to draw redistricting lines for political advantage – although with past salamander shapes not as acceptable.
     
With Republicans holding all three commissioner posts after the 2020 election, there should have been no doubt about the Republicans drawing districts favorable to their future chances, especially in the 1st District, where Board President Andy Kostielney faces a serious challenge from Jason Critchlow, a former county Democratic chairman.
     
The Democratic-controlled County Council also is expected to look out for the party’s incumbents in council redistricting, although options are limited by the requirement to draw three districts within each of the new commissioner districts.
     
Democrats thought, naively, that there could be some cooperation in the process that is so complicated by the council districts needing to fit in the commissioner districts. Then the commissioners hired an Indianapolis law firm, with former Indiana House Speaker Brian Bosma as lead attorney, to draw new commissioner districts.
     
The contract lists an hourly rate of $435 for Bosma – a discount, the agreement states –and rates somewhat lower for four other attorneys, including two who represented Trump in challenging his election loss in Wisconsin.
     
So many attorneys to draw three districts in one county? It brought retelling of an old joke: How many attorneys does it take to change a light bulb? Three. One to hold the bulb and two to turn the ladder.
     
A sharp high school student, with all the census statistics, could draw three districts with virtually equal population and compact size. But the law firm serving its Republican commissioner clients can consider more than just population. It will have data on political leanings of voters in every area, down to the smallest. The contract also guarantees drawing “legally sound districts” and representation in any court challenge.
     
To be clear, with all jokes aside, Bosma was a highly respected House speaker for six terms and is with the prestigious Kroger, Gardis & Regas law firm in Indianapolis. There will be nothing illegal or unethical in drawing the map.
     
Within the law, of course, an effective redistricting for political purposes is possible. State redistricting created districts with compact shapes and ideal population sizes – and also districts designed to guarantee 7-2 Republican control of the congressional delegation and super majorities in the state legislature. Hearings were held and all kinds of citizen suggestions were received and ignored.
     
What exactly to expect with the commissioner districts is uncertain. No plan could make all three districts more Republican. So, will emphasis be on trying to make sure Kostielney wins next year? Could Critchlow’s residence be moved out of the district? Could districts be drawn to hinder chances of council Democrats in the way they must be inserted within new commissioner districts?
     
When the commissioner map is official, will Democrats be pleased that it wasn’t worse or remain aghast? Aghast, I say, aghast! 

Colwell is a columnist for the South Bend Tribune.