Republicans brush off critics, approve Indiana redistricting

Indiana state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, right, speaks during debate about the Republican-backed congressional and legislative redistricting plan with Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, left, at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom Davies)

Indiana state Sen. Eric Koch, R-Bedford, right, speaks during debate about the Republican-backed congressional and legislative redistricting plan with Sen. Greg Taylor, D-Indianapolis, left, at the Indiana Statehouse on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Tom Davies)

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Republican lawmakers gave final approval Friday to their party’s redrawing of Indiana’s congressional and legislative districts, brushing aside objections that the maps give them an excessive election advantage and dilute the influence of minority and urban voters.

The Indiana Senate and House both voted by wide margins without any Democratic support to advance the redistricting plan to Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb for his signature.

Political analysts say the new maps that will be used through the 2030 elections protect the Republican dominance that has given them a 7-2 majority of Indiana’s U.S. House seats and commanding majorities in the state Legislature.

Republicans maintain they followed federal and state laws to match population changes recorded by the 2020 census while avoiding splitting counties and cities between multiple districts as much as possible.

Democrats and civil rights groups countered by pointed to the fragmenting of Fort Wayne’s large Black and Latino communities among three likely Republican Senate districts that will have rural white voters making up the majorities.

Critics also argued that the cities of Evansville, Lafayette and West Lafayette were divided among rural, Republican Senate districts while their populations were enough for them to have districts of their own that would be competitive between Republicans and Democrats.

Rep. Cherrish Pryor, a Black Democrat from Indianapolis, called the Republican redistricting plan “shameful” and “voter suppression at its fullest,” by “packing” minority voters into overwhelming Democratic districts or “cracking” them up into multiple districts.

“The only purpose for drawing the maps up like this was to dilute and silence the Black and minority voters,” Pryor said. “The sad part (with) this entire process is that the supermajority could have maintained their supermajority without diluting minority voters, without cracking Blacks and minorities into districts, rendering them voiceless.”

While Republicans typically win close to 60% of the statewide vote, they hold 73% of 150 legislative seats. They have two-thirds supermajorities in the state House and Senate, allowing them to approve legislation even with no Democrats present.

Numerous Democrats denounced the redistricting plan during Friday’s debates, but only one Republican each in the House and Senate spoke in support of the plan.

Redistricting bill sponsor Republican Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford dismissed criticism that the new maps largely create lopsided districts favoring Republicans or Democrats, leaving few competitive districts.

“There’s always competition, if not the general election, in the primary, and if not there as time passes and population changes and political affiliations change that can … and does create competition,” Koch said.

The Senate voted 36-12 and the House 64-25 in favor of the redistricting bill, with one Republican senator and three GOP House members joining all Democrats present in voting against.

Republicans have used the full legislative supermajorities they’ve held since the 2012 elections to advance issues such as expanded state funding of vouchers for students attending private schools, cutting corporate tax rates, toughening anti-abortion laws and approving a contentious religious objections law in 2015.

Democrats pointed to Republicans deciding in private party meetings to block consideration of bills on expanding state-supported pre-K programs, requiring background checks for private gun sales and legalizing medical marijuana.

“I think one-party rule is not a great thing for anybody. But one-party rule in secret is even worse,” said Democratic Sen. Karen Tallian of Ogden Dunes, who is resigning her seat after 16 years in frustration over Republican control.

Republicans fast-tracked the redistricting plan to approval, with Friday’s final votes occurring 17 days since the release of their congressional and Indiana House maps. The quick action made Indiana the fourth state with redistricting legislative work completed, according to the Republican advocacy group Fair Lines America Foundation.

Other prominent actions in the plan include:

— Shifting the northern tier of Democratic-leaning Indianapolis from the 5th Congressional District that Republican U.S. Rep. Victora Spartz narrowly won last year and giving it more GOP-friendly rural areas north of the city. That move was made after the district trended over the past decade from a Republican stronghold to the most politically competitive in the state.

— Strengthening House Speaker Todd Huston’s hold on his suburban Indianapolis district by removing increasingly Democratic parts of Fishers and giving him a new district that curves into far northern — and very Republican — Hamilton County after Huston spent more than $1.5 million to win a tight reelection campaign last year.

Democratic Sen. Eddie Melton of Gary said Republicans were focused on securing their political dominance rather than fairness for voters.

“The supermajority’s intent to secure complete political control by drowning out certain voices seems clear from their actions and it’s truly a disservice to our residents,” Melton said. “We could have done better for Hoosiers, for Indiana and for our democracy.”