Politics going out of redistricting?

(Fort Wayne) News-Sentinel

Here’s the best news we’ve heard from the General Assembly in a while: It looks like Hoosier lawmakers at least will consider putting a citizen commission in charge of the once-a-decade process of redrawing legislative district boundaries.

That would end the practice of gerrymandering, in which the party in power draws district lines not for the common good but to strengthen its own chance of retaining incumbency.

In its penultimate meeting Monday, the state’s two-year Special Interim Study Committee on Redistricting seemed to move definitively past the question of whether a redistricting commission is needed, and began to haggle about how the commission should work.

State Rep. Jerry Torr, R-Carmel, committee chairman, suggested his House Bill 1032, which passed the Republican-controlled House in 2014 but died in the GOP-led Senate, would be a good starting point from which committee members could craft their recommendation.

Torr’s bill calls for a five-member commission with one member each appointed by the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate and the fifth member selected by the other four commissioners.

Another proposal, drafted by Common Cause Indiana in conjunction with the League of Women Voters of Indiana, calls for a nine-member commission with three Democrats, three Republicans and three nonpartisan Hoosiers chosen by lottery following an application process overseen by legislative leaders.

However the commission is composed, its mission would be to craft apolitical, compact, contiguous districts that encourage competition rather than protect incumbents. And that’s something we’ve needed for a long time.

Indiana is not alone in seeking reform. Two dozen states have attacked gerrymandering head-on, reports The New York Times. Eleven have set up independent redistricting commissions or other politically neutral mechanisms. Legal challenges have been mounted in half a dozen others.

In seven more, popular movements, state legislatures and even Republican governors Larry Hogan of Maryland, John Kasich of Ohio and Mike Pence of Indiana, who is now Donald J. Trump’s running mate, have said it’s time to outlaw gerrymandering.

Nobody should think this will be easy. There will be lots of fights, and it is unlikely reformers can come up with anything the General Assembly will approve next session. But there are four years until the next census, so there is time. And this is a good start.

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