As a member of the Fort Wayne Community Schools board, Maria Norman understands how unresponsive area lawmakers can be. Eight House and Senate members represent portions of the urban district; half of them don't live within its boundaries.
Only Rep. Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, is a public education supporter, she said.
“They know that they don't have to show up for anything. I write my letters, I call people and none of them get back to me,” she told members of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission in March. “I get the generic 'thanks for sending whatever,' but no one actually sends me anything back or acknowledges that I even call. And that really irks me as a voter in our district, that no one has my interests at heart.”
Norman was among dozens of people statewide who offered concerns for the commission as it compiled recommendations for lawmakers to consider before approving new legislative and congressional districts this year. Those recommendations urge the General Assembly to:
• Draw districts that encourage competitive elections.
• Keep communities of interest together.
• Divide cities and counties into as few districts as possible.
• Create a transparent process that gives the public real opportunities to participate.
Marilyn Moran-Townsend, who represents the 3rd District on the citizens redistricting commission, is encouraged by Senate President Pro Tem Rodric Bray's response to her question about the recommendations during a recent Indiana Chamber of Commerce event.
“He said he saw a lot of positive recommendations in the report that he thought are doable, so that was a good and positive sign,” she said in an interview Thursday. “We do have the luxury of time to get people to really understand what is in the report; to think deeply about it and hopefully agree that there are many positive points that the legislature should adopt.”
With the release of Census data delayed this year, legislators did not have the information needed to complete redistricting before the session adjourned.
They will reconvene later this year for that purpose alone, and commission members hope the report will spur them to listen to voters who feel disenfranchised.
The commission also is sponsoring a contest and inviting Hoosiers to draw legislative and congressional maps, using a public mapping website, districtr.org. Those maps should offer evidence that districts can be drawn to preserve communities of interest, including districts that won't dilute the influence of a large school district, for example.
Moran-Townsend, a former chair of the Indiana Chamber, said that even though the business organization benefited from legislation passed by “business-minded people who often were Republicans,” she believes it's important for all Hoosiers' views to be considered.
“It goes back to the way that I was raised, which was all about fairness,” she said. “From my earliest childhood memories, it never felt like a win if I achieved something unfairly.”
Indiana's current electoral districts, drawn and approved by GOP lawmakers, do not foster fairness. Republicans hold a 71-29 advantage in the Indiana House; a 39-11 GOP advantage in the Senate. Republicans control seven of nine seats in Congress. But in statewide contests last year, no Republican won with more than 58% of the vote. The legislative and congressional imbalance comes from districts drawn to benefit one party's members. While the result was less stark, Democrats did the same when they controlled redistricting.
“It's a balancing act, I understand that,” Moran-Townsend said. “But we just need our legislators to take it very seriously. It's such an important part of democracy.”
They can begin by taking the redistricting commission's report seriously. It offers sound arguments for involving the public in the process of redrawing maps and for ensuring transparency.
What Hoosiers in the 3rd Con-gressional District have to say about current electoral districts:
• Concerns expressed about House District 50 (Rep. Dan Leonard, R-Hunting-ton) which includes all of Huntington County and a portion of southwest Fort Wayne. The Fort Wayne portion of the district has a large Hispanic population, and they feel underrepresented.
• Concerns about Fort Wayne being divided into too many state legislative districts, and the combination of urban neighborhoods with rural areas. Most of the legislators who represent significant portions of Fort Wayne do not live in Fort Wayne.
• Advocates for the public school district in Fort Wayne feel it is difficult to get adequate representation because the city is divided into too many state legislative districts.
• Concerns about gerry-mandering contributing to an unbalanced political landscape, which is causing young professionals to leave Indiana for places they feel are more compatible with their political views.