The story might be familiar by now: The once-a-decade duty of redistricting rests with a legislative supermajority, and calls for an independent, nonpartisan redrawing of district lines are ignored. It’s a story that just played out in the Indiana Statehouse with a Republican-led juggernaut resulting in congressional and legislative districts already criticized as some of the most gerrymandered in the nation.
Six blocks east on Market Street in the City-County Building, the story has a twist: It’s a Democratic supermajority that will be in charge of redistricting, and its plans remain unclear. Will the City-County Council—which went on record four years ago in support of an “independent citizen-led commission” to redraw the 159 congressional and state legislative districts—take that approach in redrawing its own 25 council districts?
The answer to the simple yes/no question from the council’s Democratic leadership, at least for now, seems to be: Too soon to talk about it. Council districts will be up for election in 2023, setting up a process that will unfold in 2022.
Brandon Herget, the council policy director to whom the leadership referred questions about redistricting, noted in an email that the council only recently approved funding for redistricting, set to take effect on Jan. 1.
“Those dollars will become available at the beginning of next year, and over the coming weeks and months, I anticipate the beginning of a conversation that will determine how our community and our Council will move forward with our process,” Herget wrote.
A spokesman for Mayor Joseph Hogsett offered a similar reply.
Asked if Hogsett supports the creation of an independent redistricting commission to redraw the City-County Council districts, the mayor’s communications director, Mark Bode, replied in an email, “By law, the City-County Council puts forward and votes on maps setting the boundaries of new council districts. The specifics of that process have not yet been announced, and commenting before that time would be premature.”
Despite its implementation in states including California, New Jersey and Ohio, the idea of independent redistricting hasn’t caught on in Indiana, though two citizens redistricting commissions have been created, both in Monroe County — one for county government, the other for Bloomington city government.
In the email, council policy director Herget said, “I am unable to speak to what other communities’ plans are for their process. All 92 counties in the state and other municipalities and towns will have to determine what makes the most sense for them with the resources and residents that they have.”
An earlier Indianapolis Business Journal article quoted Herget as favoring a redistricting process that would “break the mold,” saying, “I think we want to be intentional about doing this process differently than it’s been done before.” The article also quoted Brian Mowery, leader of the council’s five-member Republican superminority, as supporting the creation of “a bipartisan commission of lawmakers to work on the redistricting.”
The City-County Council is among 25 city or county councils that have passed resolutions that urged the Indiana General Assembly to adopt “a citizens-led commission composed of Indiana voters who are representative of the state’s diversity, partisan balance and geography” in redistricting. Council Vice President Zach Adamson sponsored the resolution, which passed in 2017 along party lines, with two Republicans joining the Democratic majority.
Julia Vaughn, policy director for Common Cause Indiana, was the driving force behind the resolution passed by the local governments. She says her organization will expect the City-County Council—and the 24 others around the state who signed onto the resolution—to do what they asked of the General Assembly.
“If the City-County Council doesn’t act on its own to form a redistricting commission,” she said, “it’s likely that Common Cause Indiana or the All IN for Democracy coalition will create a parallel process like we did for Congressional and state legislative redistricting.”
The IBJ article did not specifically address the question of an independent citizens’ redistricting commission, nor did Herget in his email reply to The Indiana Citizen.
“The only thing that I am certain of at this point,” he wrote, “is that our process in Marion County will focus on a process that puts our county’s residents first and provides an opportunity for them to learn about the process and weigh in with their expectations prior to any Council action or consideration.”