Gov. Eric Holcomb, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray hold all the cards for redistricting reform prior to the 2021 maps, but only Bosma seems open to an independent commission. (HPI Photos)
Gov. Eric Holcomb, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray hold all the cards for redistricting reform prior to the 2021 maps, but only Bosma seems open to an independent commission. (HPI Photos)

By BRIAN A. HOWEY and JACOB CURRY

INDIANAPOLIS – With Indiana steadily becoming a one-party state, the window is closing on redistricting reform that would need to be in place in 2019 in order to affect the 2021 reapportionment process.

This is a state that up until 2010 had at least one General Assembly chamber majority in play. During the decade following the 2001 maps, congressional seats in the 2nd, 8th and 9th districts changed hands between parties a half-dozen times.

But that all ended in 2011 with the current maps that were sold to legislators and the general public as keeping “communities of interest” together, observing county and school district lines, and “nesting” House seats into Senate seats in the General Assembly.

Since then, not a single congressional district has changed parties. In the General Assembly, Republicans have held super-majorities for three consecutive cycles. With past maps, usually by the fourth or fifth cycles there were large enough demographic changes to erode the intent of the majority party’s maps.

In the 2018 Indiana congressional races, Democratic Reps. Pete Visclosky and Andre Carson drew 65% of the vote, as did Republican Rep. Jim Banks, while GOP Reps. Jim Baird, Greg Pence and Larry Bucshon drew 64%. Reps. Jackie Walorski, Susan Brooks and Trey Hollingsworth drew significant pluralities between 55% and 57%. In the only statewide race not influenced by the 2011 maps, U.S. Sen. Mike Braun defeated incumbent Joe Donnelly 50.7% to 44.8%. In 2016, Gov. Eric Holcomb defeated Democrat John Gregg 51.4% to 45.4%. Those two races more accurately reflect the true, partisan breakdown in our state.

According to data from the Indiana Election Division website, in 2018 congressional races, Republicans carried a composite 55.3%, compared to 44.3% for Democrats and 0.4% for Libertarians. In Indiana House races, Republicans carried 54.7% of the composite vote, Democrats had 44.8% and Libertarians had 0.5%. So in the House, the GOP has 67% of House seats based on that 54.7% of the vote.

The current maps have distinctly skewed toward the GOP. Two newcomers, freshman U.S. Rep. Greg Pence and sophomore U.S. Rep. Trey Hollingsworth are so detached from the traditional process that they rarely do media interviews, take part in campaign debates or joint appearances with opponents or at community forums.

In the down-ballot statewides in 2018, Secretary of State Connie Lawson defeated Jim Harper 56.2% to 40.6%; Auditor Tera Klutz defeated Joselyn Whitticker 55.5% to 41% and Treasurer Kelly Mitchell defeated John Aguilera 58.5% to 41%. Traditionally, however, even with congressional districts and the Indiana House in play, the constitutional offices have held Republican. The lone exception was Democrat Glenda Ritz’s 2012 upset of controversial Supt. Tony Bennett. The GOP’s Jennifer McCormick recovered that seat in 2016.

Unlike the two previous decades when Democratic House majorities and governors approved the statewide maps, the Democratic Party has eroded across the spectrum since 2010. Republicans control 89% of county commissioners; 80% of county courthouse offices; all of the constitutional Statehouse offices; 9 of 11 congressional seats, and 107 out of 150 General Assembly seats. In previous decades, Democrats held legislative seats in rural Indiana and in a couple of dozen county courthouses along the Ohio and Wabash rivers. That began collapsing in 2010 when Democratic U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh abruptly pulled out of his reelection bid, and the ensuing shuffle involving Democratic U.S. Rep. Brad Ellsworth and State Rep. Trent Van Haaften, ignited a rout. In the next two election cycles, Republicans took control of county seats from Clark to Posey counties and up the Wabash Valley.

Democratic power is now confined to the urban or university counties of Lake, Marion, Monroe and St. Joseph. The party controls only 55 of the 117 mayors’ offices in the state. 

Republican Chairman Kyle Hupfer makes the case that the Republican brand is so strong in Indiana that it is reflected beyond the legislative and congressional districts and into local government. Asked in December about redistricting reform, Hupfer said, “I think if you start going and looking at that, you’re missing the picture. The election results and us holding these offices are the result, not the cause, in the equation. They are the result of well over a decade, 14 or 15 years now, of us moving strong Republican policy. Hoosiers like what they’ve seen from the Republican Party. They see record-low employment, a record amount of job creation last year, Gov. Holcomb is on track to exceed that again in 2018, they feel real good about where the economy is at and the jobs.”

Indiana Democratic Chairman John Zody found a shallow victory in the net four General Assembly seats in 2018 even though a “blue wave” roared across the nation with Democrats picking up more than 40 U.S. House seats and 350 legislative seats. “Going back to rural Indiana, we’re going into municipal elections and we have to protect our Democratic mayors who are running again,” he said, resisting the “one-party state” notion. “We’ll recruit not just mayors, but city council, town council, clerk-treasurer candidates. That’s where people get their feet wet in local government and learn operations. We have a lot of great Democratic mayors across the state and we can build the bench of the party. We’re not a one-party state. We’ve got plenty of good Democrats elected around the state.”

Democrat legislative leaders Tim Lanane in the Senate and Phil GiaQuinta in the House have called for redistricting reform, but the issue didn’t make the legislative agendas of Gov. Eric Holcomb, Speaker Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Tem Rod Bray.

The weak Democratic caucuses are backing SB91 and HB1011 which would create an independent, nine-member redistricting commission. SB91, sponsored by Republican Sens. John Ruckleshaus, Jon Ford and Mike Bohacek, has not received a hearing in the Senate. HB1011, authored by Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, establishes a redistricting commission. House Bill 1386, authored by Rep. Pat Boy, D-Michigan City; House Bill 1317, authored by Rep. Justin Moed, D-Indianapolis; and Senate Bill 37, authored by Sen. Timothy Lanane, D-Anderson, all do much the same thing.

SB151, as the Statehouse File reported, “would require congressional and state legislative redistricting processes to consider how districts reflect minority voices and to minimize divisions in neighborhoods, public school corporations and other entities that would share common interests.” But it leaves control of the maps in the hands of partisan legislators and political consultants who create the computer-generated maps using an array of political analytics. 

Bosma has voiced support for a redistricting commission in past cycles, and as recently as 2017 was co-sponsor for an independent commission, but he has put little of his considerable heft behind any efforts to emerge from the House. On Thursday, HPI Statehouse correspondent Jacob Curry asked Bosma if he had a different stance. "No, my opinion has not changed," Bosma responded. "I have authored or co-authored the bill twice, we’ve passed it through the House twice over the last 10 years. It’s not going to get satisfactory attention in the Senate, so it probably doesn’t warrant going through the knock-down-drag-out here over it. Many of the newer folks have not experienced the discussions in the past so it would take quite awhile to get through it without much result. I doubt Rep. (Timothy) Wesco will be moving the bill but that’s entirely up to him." 

The problem is the window is closing on any effort to get an independent commission in place by the 2021 reapportionment process.

Gov. Eric Holcomb told the IBJ in 2018 that he is “skeptical so far in what I’ve read” of redistricting reform plans because “there is politics on both sides of this” and he is skeptical that the state could find truly nonpartisan people to draw districts. “It doesn’t mean I wouldn’t ultimately support” legislation, Holcomb said. “I’ve seen this not work in other places. We have a process now that’s left in the people’s representatives’ hands.”

Asked by HPI if he would support any of the 2019 reforms, his spokeswoman Rachel Hoffmeyer responded, “The governor is sharply focused on his legislative agenda. He’ll monitor other legislation as it develops.”

Some 25 cities and county councils and boards have adopted resolutions calling for a citizen-led redistricting commission for Indiana. “Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Utah are some of the states that recently enacted redistricting reforms,” said Julia Vaughn of Common Cause Indiana. “We have many models to follow, and states like Indiana can otherwise create our own path.”

But the ruling power establishment in Indiana appears to be defending its dominant position. The notion that competitive congressional and General Assembly districts being carried by credible and adroit candidates and campaigns advocating good and popular policy in this traditional red state isn’t enough.

Simply put, redistricting reform prior to 2021 is in precarious condition.

The question for Gov. Holcomb, Speaker Bosma and President Bray is whether their first duty is to the Republican Party, or to the citizens of Indiana who traditionally have had access to a viable, two-party system. 

As for Indiana Democrats, leaders (many who have been on the Central Committee for decades but have shouldered little accountability for becoming a party approaching the Libertarian threshhold), the question for them is whether they are up to the task of becoming a viable political party. At this writing, there is little evidence they are, and whether they could even take advantage of altruistic majority leaders who understand the value of a true, two-party system.