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Rokita proposes new plan for redistricting

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Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita pitched a plan Tuesday that would make it illegal for lawmakers to consider political data when redrawing congressional and legislative district maps.

Rokita wants districts to follow county or township lines as much as possible so they are not divided. He says the plan would result in more fairly drawn, competitive districts.

His proposal has drawn praise from Gov. Mitch Daniels, a fellow Republican, but two top GOP lawmakers said it is not Rokita’s job to interfere with a process that belongs in the hands of the General Assembly.

Indiana lawmakers are now required by the state constitution to vote on new legislative maps following the U.S. Census every 10 years. That’s expected to make the 2010 legislative campaigns more intense — especially in the narrowly divided House — because the parties in power will wield the mapmaking pens in 2011 following the 2010 Census.

It often is a partisan process designed to protect incumbents or carve out new territory based in part on voter registrations or voting patterns, which would be disallowed under Rokita’s proposal. Gerrymandering has resulted in many oddly shaped districts, some splitting rural counties and small cities.

“They are arbitrarily based on politics,” Rokita said at a Rotary Club meeting in Indianapolis. “I want to put fairness on the map. They meander and sprawl throughout the state.”

House District 73 in southern Indiana, for example, covers parts of eight counties. Johnson County, south of Indianapolis, is divided into three state Senate districts.

Rokita showed a film clip of Indiana residents viewing the shapes of legislative districts and guessing what they looked like. The responses included a dog, dragons, alligators and a squirrel.

Since the current district maps were drawn in 2001, Rokita’s office said the state’s competitive field of candidates has become more shallow, with candidates in two out of every five legislative races running without any major party opposition.

Rokita wants districts to follow existing political boundaries, including county, city and township lines, as reasonably as possible. He also favors having each of the state’s 50 Senate districts include two of the 100 House districts.

He presented examples of what the current districts could look like based on 2000 Census data. A firm was paid $50,000 to produce the examples, and Rokita’s office is spending $60,000 to have a Web site — http://www.rethinkingredistricting.com — where people can learn more about the process and his proposals, and submit their own suggestions.

Senate President Pro Tem David Long, R-Fort Wayne, issued his own ideas on redistricting Tuesday.

He said no district should be drawn with the goal of improperly favoring any person or political party, and other criteria should include preserving existing neighborhoods and interests based on cultural, ethnic, geographic and socio-economic considerations.

But Long told The Indianapolis Star earlier that Rokita had “usurped” the Legislature’s job by crafting prototype maps.

House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, has favored creation of an independent commission to draw maps that the General Assembly would vote on. He said such a vote would satisfy the state constitution’s requirement that lawmakers handle redistricting.

“I’m not sure why the secretary of state is trying to assert himself into the process,” Bosma said.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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