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At Fort Wayne redistricting hearing, audience warns against a replay of 2011

More than 30 northeast Indiana residents offered their thoughts on redistricting Aug. 7 before a panel of state legislators in Fort Wayne. The general message for lawmakers: You can draw better districts than you did in 2011.

Karen Nesius Roeger told the joint hearing of the Indiana House and Senate election committees at the Fort Wayne Ivy Tech campus that she wished that she could analyze proposed districts, but because those maps haven’t been drawn yet, she has to work with current districts.

“I live in House District 81. Across the street from me is House District 80, and four blocks from that is House District 85. This is in one neighborhood,” she said. “This is intentionally cutting up a neighborhood so that we don’t have a voice of our own in state affairs. … I would like to see my vote count. I would like to not be gerrymandered out of my voice.”

As in 2011, the Republican majorities in the Indiana House and Senate will control the redistricting process.

House Elections and Apportionment Commitee chairman Tim Wesco, R-Osceola representing parts of St. Joseph and Elkhart counties, led the hearing. He said census data used to draw new districts is scheduled to become available Aug. 12. A software tool anyone can use to draw new districts for submission to the Legislature should be available in late August. He expects legislators to begin debating maps of new districts in mid-September.

The Fort Wayne hearing was part of a racing road show in which state legislators held eight hearings in two days across Indiana. Legislators listened to residents for about 90 minutes. Lawmakers did not answer questions or enter into discussions with speakers during the hearing.

Jorge Fernandez provided several examples of puzzling district boundaries. An example: Canterbury Green, a large apartment complex on the northeast side of Fort Wayne, is divided between two House districts. Fernandez, a Democrat, has run three times, unsuccessfully, to represent House District 50, which includes Huntington County, a part of rural Wells County and a peninsula that juts into the south side of Fort Wayne in Allen County.

He recommended that if legislators can preserve what he described as communities of shared interest and avoid including parts of more than two counties in districts, that would make the 2021 maps better than those drawn in 2011.

Although Democrats in Indiana argue that the 2011 district maps have hindered their election performance, they were not the only residents pleading for more openness in the redistricting process.

Jeannette Jaquish, a Libertarian who often remarks on politics and policy in letters to the Journal Gazette in Fort Wayne, said it’s obvious that a commission drawing new districts needs to be composed of “honest, fair, unbiased people.”

“May I recommend the Libertarians, because we can’t elect anyone by a majority,” Jaquish added. “We’d have to draw something like a spiderweb, with dots all over, to get one district where we had anything even approaching 50 percent.”

Suspicion was a multipartisan sentiment at the hearing.

“I’m a conservative Republican, and I value free and fair elections above all else. What I’m concerned about is some of these maps may actually favor Democrats.“ said Lisa Bobay-Somers of Fort Wayne. She said she’s heard that there’s been a move to bring more Democrats into two conservative legislators’ districts “so that it’s harder for them to win as a conservative Republican in an effort to get rid of them.” — Bob Caylor