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House committee quickly approves redistricting plan, setting the stage for floor debate on Wednesday

With Democrats offering criticism but no specific alternatives, the Republican-controlled House Elections and Apportionment Committee on Monday morning quickly approved the GOP majority’s redrawn congressional and legislative maps, sending the enabling legislation to the full House where debate is expected to begin on Wednesday.

In remarks at the beginning of the meeting, committee chairman Timothy Wesco (above, at left), R-Osceola, praised the plan as reflecting public input including testimony before the committee as recently as last week.

Wesco then offered and the committee accepted an amendment to the bill to slightly adjust the redrawing of two House districts in northeastern Indiana, a change that he said resulted from testimony noting that the original legislation would have split the Canterbury Green apartment complex in northeastern Fort Wayne between the two districts — an example, Wesco said, of Republicans’ commitment to keeping “communities of interest” intact. The legislation also was amended Monday to make minor adjustments in congressional district lines to further equalize their populations.

Wesco told the committee that the redistricting plan was focused on keeping communities of interest together and avoid splitting municipalities. District lines in Fort Wayne and Allen County changed significantly, creating a new district that likely will lean Democratic.

“(Our maps) seek to make Congressional District 6 more compact, which was requested at the hearing in Anderson,” Wesco said. “There were specific complaints about the congressional district running all the way from (Delaware) County to the (Ohio) River. We now have just two congressional district bordering the Ohio River versus three.”

In presenting the legislation, the bill’s author, Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Avon, told the committee that the information shared during public testimony was taken into consideration when making amendments.

“They (the constituents) were a part of the process,” he said. “And they are very valuable to us as we progress through the maps.” 

None of the eight other Republicans on the committee spoke during the 20-minute committee meeting except to vote yes on its approval. Each of the four Democrats offered brief criticism of the Republican plan but none attempted to amend the bill before its approval.

Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, indicating that House Democrats might offer amendments during floor debate expected on Wednesday, cited a new study finding that the redistricting legislation as proposed would keep Republicans with about 70% of the seats in the Indiana General Assembly although they generally win about 58% of the vote in statewide elections. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the status quo is an unfair map.”

 Rep. Sue Errington, D-Muncie, asked Wesco to explain the redrawing of the 5th Congressional District, which analysts expect to strengthen the Republican support for first-term incumbent Victoria Spartz.

“As part of the public hearings last week, (a constituent) thought certain communities belonged together — such as Kokomo, Muncie and Anderson,” Wesco said in response. “So I do believe that we considered and listened to the testimony last week.”

Asked by Errington if he was concerned that the redrawn congressional district might be less competitive, Wesco pointed to an Indianapolis Star report that quoted a state Democratic spokesman as saying the party could still win the district.

Rep. Tonya Pfaff, D-Terre Haute, said she would have hoped that the redrawn maps would be beneficial for all Hoosiers, not just those who identify with the Republican Party. 

 “I think most voters are like my students in the classroom, and they trust us to do the right thing,” said Pfaff, a high school math teacher. “They trust us to be fair, they trust that the system that we are in charge of is going to do the right thing for all Hoosier voters.” 

In a 9-4 vote split along party lines, the committee approved the redistricting bill. The House convened Monday afternoon, and after a tribute to Rep. Steve Davisson, R-Salem, who died on Sunday, voted 63-30 to adopt the committee report on the legislation.

The vote was along party lines except for three Republicans who broke ranks to vote “no” — Rep. John Jacob, whose redrawn Southside Indianapolis district would include the residence of a former legislator who has said she might oppose him for renomination in 2022; Rep. Curt Nisly, whose redrawn district excludes his Milford residence, shifting it to the district of another incumbent whom he would have to challenge for renomination; and Rep. Jeff Ellington, R-Bloomington, whose redrawn southern Indiana district would include more of heavily Democratic Monroe County, making his reelection less secure.

The vote set the stage for floor debate and any attempts to amend the bill on Wednesday. — The Indiana Citizen.

Whitney Downard of CNHI Indiana and Haley Pritchett of TheStatehouseFile.com contributed reporting through The Indiana Citizen redistricting reporting project, which was organized with assistance from the Hoosier State Press Association.

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