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On Elbridge Gerry’s 277th birthday, a rally against gerrymandering

How better to warn against the practice of gerrymandering than with the words of the man for whom it is named?

A crowd of about 50 gathered in Indianapolis Saturday — the 277th birthday of Elbridge Gerry, the founding father blamed for the first instance of gerrymandering — to rally for openness and transparency in Indiana’s upcoming redistricting process.

Among them was orator Jim Wolfe, dressed in colonial garb as Gerry lamenting the moment for which he is most remembered. Gerry went on to become vice president of the United States — an honor long overshadowed by his notoriety as the Massachusetts governor who signed into law new legislative maps that created a state senate district so curiously drawn that it reminded some of a salamander.

“I stand before you today a humble and contrite man,” he told Saturday’s rally, due not only to the damage to his reputation but — “to add insult to injury” — the indignity of having his family’s name mispronounced for the past 200 years. Gerry is pronounced “Gary;” gerrymandering with a “Jerry.”

The rally at Indianapolis’ North United Methodist Church continued with a  “votercade” of participants cars up North Meridian Street to the governor’s residence, where Wolfe was to drop off a letter urging that Republican incumbent Eric Holcomb commit to nothing less than redistricting legislation that “focuses on the needs of communities, not politicians.”

But the organizer of Saturday’s rally warned those gathered that something else is planned, citing reports, first published in The Indiana Citizen on July 8, that leaders of the Indiana General Assembly’s Republican majority are planning public hearings on August 6-7, well ahead of when the specifics of new congressional and legislative maps are proposed.

“They are going to cram eight hearings on redistricting on those two dates,” said Julia Vaughn, executive director of Common Cause Indiana. “That’s not OK, is it? Tell them this plan is way too rushed. We need to tell Governor Eric Holcomb, ‘We need your help.”’ — The Indiana Citizen