Thursday, January 28, 2010

Gerrymandered No More????

Several weeks ago there came a movement to change the way Indiana draws their Senate and Congressional districts. The idea was to abandon the long held tradition of the party in power Gerrymandering the districts by contorting them into bazaar territories to best assure that a solid majority of the voters would vote for the party that is in power assuring their power stays protected.

When I heard this, I have to admit that I laughed, thinking there was no way this could get accomplished. That politics as usual would prevail. The idea of Gerrymandering is anything but a new idea, or practice. If you understand where the name came from you will understand how long and entrenched this practice is in American politics.

In 1812, Elbridge Gerry was governor of Massachusetts. He signed a redistricting bill into law, that rearranged state Senate and Congressional districts in such a way as to give the Jeffersonian Democratic Republican Party a huge advantage over the Federalists. One district was stretched into such a tortuous shape in order to make sure to lock in a majority of voters for the Jeffersonian Republicans. Federalists threw a fit at that abuse of power. Political observers joked that the odd-shaped district looked like a salamander. Engraver Elkanah Tisdale seized on that idea, added claws, wings, and fangs, and published a cartoon in the Boston Gazette showing the monster that Gerry created. "The Gerrymander."

This redistricting kept the Jeffersonian Republicans in power for years, but many in Massachusetts were outraged, the political backlash defeated Gerry in the next election. However, the party was thankful and James Madison made him his Vice President.

With that kind of history, who would have guessed it could be done. It isn't done yet, but yesterday the Indiana Senate voted for bills that could lead to dramatic changes in how legislative districts are drawn in the future.

Senate Bill 136, which was approved 45-3, creates a commission of eight legislators and eight citizens, with Indiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Randall Shepard as the chairman.

In addition to SB 136, sponsored by Sen. Sue Landske, R-Cedar Lake, the Senate also voted 47-1 for Senate Bill 80, laying out new standards for the Indiana House, Senate and Congressional maps the legislature must draw next year, based on this year’s census numbers.

SB 80, sponsored by Sen. Connie Lawson, R-Danville, puts into state law guidelines that include protecting minority voting rights while trying to draw districts that are compact, do not divide communities and follow existing boundaries, including counties, as much as possible.

Both bills now move to the Indiana House for consideration.

This could actually make the districts much more easily access able for those in Congress to serve their constituents, campaign, and keep the cost of keeping offices down. If these districts were drawn along blocks of counties it would make a lot of sense. Just look at the 5th District that runs from Greenwood to Wabash, the 6th that is in Muncie and Columbus. Hopefully, this gets done. It has cleared the Republican controlled Senate, now to the House where Democrat Pat Bauer holds court.

Keep your fingers crossed.

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