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House Republicans defend proposed maps in first redistricting hearing

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Republican leaders shared more details about how they drew proposed congressional and state House district maps but still faced familiar criticism about transparency during a committee hearing Sept. 15 at the Statehouse.

Rep. Gregory Steuerwald, R-Avon, the primary author of the redistricting legislation, said the House Republican Campaign Committee consulted on the maps but there was no outside influence otherwise.

Steuerwald said he worked with House Speaker Todd Huston, House Elections and Apportionment Committee Chair Timothy Wesco and legislative staff to draw the maps. Redistricting reform advocates had brought attention to House Republicans hiring Washington, D.C.-based attorney Jason Torchinsky, known for his court defense of Republican-drawn maps, but Steuerwald said lawmakers only relied on Torchinsky’s legal advice and he did not help draw the maps.

“What an interesting process this has been,” Steuerwald said. “Much more complicated and difficult than I ever thought it was gonna be.”

Click here to see the proposed state House map and here to see the proposed congressional map.

Among the main goals for the proposed maps, Steuerwald said, were transparency, compactness and maintaining communities of interest — or communities where people have common policy concerns.

One of the things that made drawing new maps difficult was population changes that showed up in the most recent census count. Rural counties generally saw a decline, while suburbs and urban areas, especially in and around Indianapolis, saw increases.

The most obvious change from the previous maps is the 5th and 7th Congressional Districts shifted north. The 7th District, represented by Democrat Andre Carson, would include most of Marion County, minus approximately the bottom third of the county. The 5th District, represented by Republican Victoria Spartz, currently stretches down as far as 38th Street but wouldn’t include any of Marion County under the House’s proposal.

The proposal includes six new state House districts (meaning a current lawmaker doesn’t live there). In general, the districts in both maps follow county lines more closely than the current maps.

The hearing was lightly attended considering the weight of the matter; redistricting will impact elections for the next decade. House Republicans have been criticized for releasing maps Sept. 14, the day before the first of two scheduled hearings.

“This all just seems like you’re trying to insulate yourself from critique,” said Jacob Schwartz, a senior at Indiana University who said he skipped his ethics class to be at the hearing, which started at 1 p.m.

Committee member Matt Pierce, D-Bloomington, asked the most questions of Steuerwald, who isn’t part of the committee, about the process for drawing the maps. He said it was difficult even for him to analyze the maps before starting hearings.

“I can’t imagine what it’s like for the public,” Pierce said.

Republicans have a supermajority in the House and Senate, so Democrats don’t have a say in how the maps are drawn.

Martha Lamkin, a board member for Women4Change, criticized the proposed districts for not being competitive enough and said that will perpetuate Indiana’s historically low voter turnout problem.

“Our current districts have been cracked and packed so there are super-supermajorities in this House and in the Senate,” she said.

An analysis from FiveThirtyEight, a website focused on data and polling, showed the proposed congressional map favors Republicans slightly more than the current map, although the partisan breakdown throughout the state’s nine districts is expected to stay at 7-2 in favor of Republicans. The main difference is the 5th District would likely be more solidly Republican than it currently is.

The House Elections and Apportionment Committee will have another public hearing at 10 a.m. Sept. 16. The committee is set to vote on the congressional and Indiana House district maps Sept. 20, and a final vote from the full House is expected Sept. 23.

The redistricting legislation will then go to the state Senate, which has one public hearing scheduled for Sept. 27. A full Senate vote is expected by Oct. 1.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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