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John Krull commentary: The mess made by gerrymandering

Not long after Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed Indiana’s new and heavily gerrymandered redistricting bill into law, he received a reminder of why such measures aren’t such a good idea.

A Marion County judge upheld a law passed by the Indiana General Assembly that challenges the governor’s authority to use emergency powers. The legislature adopted the measure, which allows lawmakers to call themselves into session, over Holcomb’s veto.

Holcomb argued that the state constitution says the governor is supposed to call the legislature into session—which it does.

The judge, though, said that constitutional provision is the exception rather than the rule.

Holcomb now says he will take his time deciding whether to appeal this initial ruling.

While pondering whether to proceed with the litigation, the governor also might think about how wise it was to sign off on a system of gerrymandered maps of legislative districts that rewards and protects lawmakers who are divorced from both reality and consequence.

Much of the opposition to Holcomb’s exercise of emergency powers springs from extremist legislators who are members of the governor’s own party. They thought and continue to think that Holcomb overreacted to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They are anti-vaccine.

They are anti-mask.

They are convinced that just wishing hard enough will make the virus go away.

Theirs is not a belief that is tenable in the real world. But they exist in a political system that puts them in contact only rarely with people who both disagree with them and have the power to hold them accountable.

That is the system Holcomb just signed into law.

He shouldn’t have.

Or, at the very least, he should have done so under loud and sustained protest.

Governors and other leaders who seek statewide elected office don’t have the luxury of being insulated from opposing or just questioning voices.

It is impossible to gerrymander a statewide election. Because people from all parts of the state can vote in statewide races, it’s impossible to arrange things so that one party has an inherent, unearned and unfair advantage over the other.

That’s not the case with legislative maps. Those districts can be sliced and diced to meet the expectations and desires of the officeholder, rather than the needs of the voters.

The result is that we Hoosiers—and other Americans who have the misfortune of living in similarly gerrymandered states—often find ourselves represented by lawmakers who are completely disconnected from our views.

Such has been the case with the pandemic.

Voters had a chance to render a verdict on Eric Holcomb’s handling of the COVID-19 crisis.

Just under 57% of the electorate decided to return Holcomb to office. Another 32% percent voted for Democrat Woody Myers, who argued Holcomb hadn’t been aggressive enough in battling the disease.

Libertarian candidate Donald Rainwater alone contended that Holcomb had been too heavy-handed and overreaching in dealing with COVID-19. He captured 11% at the polls.

By my math, that means 89% percent of Hoosiers—nearly nine of out every 10 of us—thought Holcomb either handled the crisis well or didn’t do enough.

And only about one in 10 felt he did too much.

Yet somehow our legislators seem to think that Rainwater and his views represent the majority.

That the guy who barely cracked 10 percent won a landslide.

That’s because the lawmakers who swallow such nonsense operate in a system that is incapable of punishing either idiocy or delusion.

That’s the system the Republican supermajorities in the Indiana General Assembly just adopted for the state. It’s also the one Holcomb just signed into law.

He may have reason to regret that.

Now that these uninhibited legislators have sat for a bite at the governor’s table, they might decide to stay for a meal.

Or even a feast.

Instead of having a governor run the state, we will have a committee of 150 doing so. Many of the members of that committee will continue to think they are accountable only to the faces they see in their mirrors and the strange voices they hear in their heads.

Ain’t God good to Indiana?

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

 

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