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As lawmakers prepare for final hearing, fair-redistricting advocates rally outside Statehouse

In the final hours before the last of nine public hearings on the upcoming redistricting process, a group of about 80 rallied outside the Indiana Statehouse Wednesday to renew their push for a transparent and nonpartisan redrawing of the state’s congressional and legislative districts.

The crowd gathered outside the east front of the Statehouse along Capitol Avenue, applauding speakers who warned against gerrymandering as a threat to democracy and the state’s civic health.

Coming on the heels of eight public hearings where the legislature’s Republican majority heard repeated criticism of its handling of the 2011 redistricting process, bipartisanship was a common theme of Wednesday’s event.

“Fairness is not a Democratic value; it’s a Hoosier value,” said Julia Vaughn, policy director of Common Cause Indiana and a leader of the All IN for Democracy coalition formed to promote an independent redistricting process.

To reinforce the bipartisan support for their cause, Wednesday’s speakers represented both parties, including Marilyn Moran Townsend, a Fort Wayne businesswoman who serves as a Republican member of the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission formed to promote independent redistricting this year.

She warned that gerrymandered districts have led to an increasing number of extremist candidates in both parties.

“That is bad for democracy,” Townsend said. “I know my Republican colleagues care about that a lot.”

Chris Douglas, an Indianapolis businessman also introduced as a lifelong Republican, agreed.

“We’re all Hoosiers,” he told the crowd. “We can’t survive long, let alone prosper, without each other, but you wouldn’ know that by our politics, inflamed by false divisions among us and our unreasonably gerrymandered districts … It becomes our party primaries that determine the outcome, not the general election. It’s competitive districts that keep extremists in both parties in check.”

State Sen.. Fady Qaddoura, an Indianapolis Democrat who is among the legislators in the public hearings, took note of the challenges ahead with the redistricting process set to begin in September.

“Please be hopeful,” he told the crowd. “Don’t give up. We will see positive change even if it takes time.” — The Indiana Citizen