After nearly two weeks of fine-tuning on their redistricting maps — generally small changes attributed to input from the public and even their Democratic counterparts — Indiana Senate Republicans put an end to the tinkering on Thursday and set the stage for a final vote on Friday.
In repeated votes along party lines reinforced by its 39-11 advantage, the Republican supermajority rejected nine attempts from Democrats to further amend House Bill 1581, which would redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts based upon 2020 census legislation released in August.
The second-reading advancement of the legislation — seen as likely to keep the supermajority firmly in place — came on the same day that Senate Democrat Karen Tallian of Portage announced her resignation effective Nov. 1, citing the difficulty of advancing her agenda from the minority. “After 16 years I’ve had enough,” Tallian, 70, told the Times of Northwest Indiana. “I’m at a point in my life where I want to use my remaining energy to produce more immediate results.”
As a result of Thursday’s session, the finished product of the legislation will differ from the original Republican proposal only in the redrawing of nine Senate districts in Hamilton and Marion counties — a Republican-backed amendment in committee earlier this week adopting maps proposed by Indiana Senate Democrats but not significantly changing the political balance of any of the districts — as well as smaller adjustments to congressional district lines and two Indiana House districts in Fort Wayne.
Thursday’s second reading effectively concluded any further amendment of the legislation, sending it to a final vote in a Senate session set to begin at 9 a.m. Friday. But the final vote on the legislation will come later Friday in the Indiana House, which is expected to concur with the earlier Senate committee amendment in a session scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.
During a three-hour session Thursday afternoon, Senate Democrats did most of the talking, introducing separate amendments that included replacing the proposed congressional and Indiana Senate maps with two submitted by the independent Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission.
The only Republican to speak from the floor Thursday was Eric Koch of Bedford, the Senate sponsor of the legislation, who argued against each of the amendments, saying each of the citizen-drawn maps were flawed by a lack of compactness or not meeting legal requirements.
Sen. Fady Qaddoura, D-Indianapolis, said that while the citizen-drawn districts were not perfect, they had the overridding virtue of not being drawn by the very legislators who would seek reelection from them.
“Can we still call it a democracy,” Qaddoura said, “whether a Republican or a Democrat places maps that almost guarantee a certain number of seats for either party?”
Other amendments would have redrawn Senate districts in Fort Wayne, Evansville, and Tippecanoe County to reduce the number of districts in each and to heighten the chances of Democratic or minority candidates.
Sen. Minority Leader Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, said it was particularly vital that the Allen County districts be redrawn to improve the chances of a Black candidate being elected there. With a 35% minority population, Allen County does not have any non-white members in the Indiana General Assembly and no Democratic members in the Senate.
“You kept the south side and the people of Fort Wayne from having a voice in this legislative body for things that they think are better for them, their family, their loved ones,” Taylor said to Senate Republicans. “This is one of the most egregious things I’ve seen us do as a body. For the next 10 years, the people of Fort Wayne will not have a voice.”
Koch argued that the amendments would have reduced the number of senators representing Fort Wayne, Evansville, Lafayette and West Lafayette, thus diluting the influence of voters there.
Another amendment, from Sen. Jean Breaux, D-Indianapolis, sought to redraw Senate District 28 to remove a small segment of the Indianapolis Eastside from a largely rural district in adjacent Hancock and Shelby counties — a change that Koch argued, due to the intracacies of map-drawing, would create more problems than it would solve.
The final attempts by Democrats to amend the legislation would have established more criteria for the redistricting process, which now requires only that redrawn districts be contiguous, and establish an independent redistricting commission for the 2030 cycle — both voted down, again, after brief remarks from Koch.
As one amendment after another went down to defeat, Sen. Timothy Lanane, a Democrat paired with an incumbent Republican in a redrawn Madison County district expected to put his reelection in jeopardy, acknowledged his frustration in an exchange with Koch.
“You’re a gentleman,” Lanane said, “and I’m sorry to be a little testy with you, but these are testy times for those of us in the minority.” — The Indiana Citizen.
Alexa Shrake of TheStatehouseFile.com contributed reporting through The Indiana Citizen redistricting reporting project, which was organized with assistance from the Hoosier State Press Association.