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House rejects Democrats’ proposed map, advances GOP redistricting plan to final vote

Discounting Democrats’ attempt to substitute what they described as a more competitive “fair redistricting map,” the Republican-controlled Indiana House on Wednesday consolidated their redrawing of the state’s congressional and legislative districts with those released a day before by Senate Republicans, advancing the legislation to a final House vote on Thursday.

Wednesday’s session was to review the enabling legislation, House Bill 1581, on “second reading,” a step short of final consideration but ordinarily the last one in which the legislation could be amended. It also provided the first opportunity for the entire House to openly debate the once-a-decade redistricting process.

In a 68-28 vote, the motion by Rep. Greg Steuerwald, R-Avon, the bill’s author, to amend it to include the enabling legislation for the Republican-drawn Senate maps was approved within about 10 minutes of the session’s convening.

House Democrats’ point man on arguing against the Republican plan, Rep. Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, urged the amendment’s defeat, saying it would short-circuit public input on the proposed Senate districts since it occurred after the two House committee public hearings on the redistricting bill.

“We, as legislators, as representatives of the people, have not had any feedback from the public about the Senate maps,” Pierce said.

Apparently anticipating the criticism in proposing the amendment, Steuerwald said a Senate Elections Committee public hearing on the consolidated bill that is scheduled for Monday would provide an opportunity for public testimony. By including the Senate districts in a House-passed bill, he argued, the House could avoid the extra step of reconvening to concur on the Senate districts later — or the further delay of sending the redistricting bill to a conference committee.

“Part of the reason we’re doing this is because it’ll go through the process over in the Senate, they’ll have their hearings, their committee hearings and everything,” said Steuerwald. “But if we do this … we’re not going to have to come back for a concurrence, assuming there’s no amendments.”

A slightly longer debate then ensued on a separate motion from Pierce to amend the bill — to remove all of Steuerwald’s enabling language for the Republican-drawn Indiana House maps and replace it with that for a separate map of Indiana House districts that he proposed, (above) drawn by a private citizen and submitted to the Indiana Citizens Redistricting Commission, a citizens advisory group composed of members of both major political parties and independents.

The commission conducted a contest with a prize for the best-drawn map, which commission members presented during a House committee hearing last week; the map presented by Democrats on Wednesday was not the one judged the contest winner.

Pierce argued that by enacting the map that he presented, legislators could avoid the conflict of interest resulting from personally being involved in drawing the districts from which they are elected. In addition, he said the citizen-drawn map provided a more proportional reflection of party preferences in the state.

House Majority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, was among the Democrats to speak in support of Pierce’s amendment, saying it reflected his past support of having an independent redistricting commission similar to those in other states.

“That’s why we’re here today,” he said, “to present an independently drawn map.”

In urging the defeat of Pierce’s amendment, Steuerwald noted that while the citizens commission had made public their contest-winning map in a hearing last week, he had never seen the map proposed by Pierce until Wednesday.

“We talked about process and transparency,” Steuerwald said, “and we hadn’t seen this until three hours ago.”

Steuerwald also questioned the deviation in the population of House districts in the map that Pierce presented, which Pierce acknowledged was greater than that in the Republican-proposed maps but still within the necessary requirements.

“When you talk about deviation,” Steuerwald said, “you talk about diluting someone’s vote. It’s extremely important that one vote equals another one. … I urge you to reject this. Our maps are rock solid.”

Pierce’s motion to amend the bill was defeated in a 27-68 vote along party lines.

In a news conference before the afternoon House session, Pierce (below, at center) said the citizen-drawn map would result in about 59 likely Republican House seats, compared to the 71 that Republicans now hold.

“Any map should reflect the current partisan balance of the state,” Pierce said, adding that Republicans “are giving themselves a supermajority they don’t deserve.”

Asked if he was concerned that some of the districts on the map that he presented were less compact than those on the Republican-drawn map, Pierce said it was more important to draw districts that would be competitive.

“There’s no such thing as a perfect map,” Pierce said. “Compactness isn’t necessarily a requirement. The question is what’s more important: having a few districts look a little more compact or having competition in the system.” — The Indiana Citizen.

Whitney Downard, Statehouse reporter for CNHI Indiana, contributed reporting through The Indiana Citizen redistricting reporting project, which was organized with assistance from the Hoosier State Press Association.

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