Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Secretary of State Todd Rokita Proposes Redistricting Reforms

I have a confession.

I am a conservative Republican and I like what Todd Rokita has done as Secretary of State. I know that a lot of my conservative friends don't like Rokita apparently because of his position on some social issues, but frankly those are issues he's never going to deal with as Secretary of State I may not like Rokita if he runs for Governor, but as Secretary of State, I think he is the prototype for how our statewide elected officials should conduct themselves in office. He is active, aggressive, and doesn't shy away from using his office as a bully pulpit to deal with election issues. He is a breath of fresh air when compared to former Attorney General Steve Carter who worked overtime trying to find reasons why he couldn't tackle issues that came to his office.

This morning's newspaper brings news that Secretary of State Rokita has made a proposal to end the political gerrymandering so that districts are more compact and follow, as much as possible, county and township lines. Mary Beth Schneider of the Star reports:

Secretary of State Todd Rokita will dial up the debate over how best to redraw Indiana's legislative districts today when he calls for making it a felony to consider politics in the process.

Rokita, who will outline his proposal in a speech to the Rotary Club of Indianapolis at noon, wants to bar lawmakers who draw up boundary maps from considering political data such as how people vote or where incumbents live.

Such considerations contribute to odd jumbles such as Indiana House District 86, which brings together citizens with seemingly little in common as it snakes from Fall Creek on the Near Northside of Indianapolis far north into Carmel, and the 4th Congressional District, which stretches from Monticello in Northern Indiana to Mitchell in Southern Indiana, picking up western Marion County along the way. In other cases, compact communities such as little Frankton, in Madison County, are split between two Indiana Senate districts.

Those quirky designs arise as lawmakers try to pack in, or exclude, as many Democrats or Republicans as possible in order to predetermine which party can win in a given district.


Lawmakers, however, thought Rokita had trespassed on legislative turf.

"I don't think it's his business," said Senate President Pro Tempore David Long, R-Fort Wayne. "The secretary of state has overstepped his bounds."

Legislators undertake the redistricting job every 10 years after the government compiles new census data; the next redistricting round will begin in 2011. A decade ago, even they admitted the redrawing was done mostly with an eye toward protecting incumbents.

Now, Rokita told The Indianapolis Star, he wants districts to follow existing county or township lines as much as possible, with each of Indiana's 50 Senate districts neatly containing two of the 100 House districts.

Getting legislators to change the process that determines their own political survival and the control of power smacks, no question, of Don Quixote's joust with windmills.

"That's where public pressure comes in," Rokita said. "That's why I'm going to spend a year going around the state with these maps, investing in it. The biggest obstacle I see right now is if people don't take an interest."

Legislators have a hearing scheduled for Sept. 29 on whether and how to reform the job of drawing new legislative maps.

Although Long said he supported an open redistricting process, with public input and reasonable boundaries, he said Rokita had "usurped" the legislature's job by going so far as to craft prototype maps. Simply requiring districts to follow county and township lines is no solution, he said.

"It's the laziest way you can possibly draw these," Long said.

Even lawmakers who have called for reform thought Rokita was crossing a line.

"Our constitution says this is clearly a legislative function," said House Minority Leader Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, "and not a function of the secretary of state's office or any other administrative office."

Bosma has suggested putting the process in the hands of an independent commission, saying Indiana's redistricting, at least in the Democrat-controlled House, has been a gerrymandered mess.

Rokita found the most agreement from House Speaker B. Patrick Bauer, D-South Bend, who agrees that an independent commission isn't the answer. Rokita's general concept, he said, "makes some sense."


Rokita also predicted his plan would result in more competitive races.

"We'll go from 40 percent without opponents to probably zero," he said.

He has put state dollars into his effort, including $50,000 to hire a firm to draw his prototype maps and $60,000 for a firm to create a Web site, www.rethinkingredistricting .com.

As the state's chief elections officer, Rokita said he felt drawn to try to improve the system that affects those elections.

"I'm not sure where my political life takes me," he said. "But I would tremendously regret if I look back at my time as secretary of state and didn't take a swing at some of these things."

I don't agree with Sen. Long or Rep. Bosma. Todd Rokita is the chief election officer for the State of Indiana. He should be using his office as a bully pulpit to advocate for reform of the redistricting process so that elections are more fair and elections are competitive affairs where people's votes make a difference. Rokita is exercising much-needed leadership on a matter that is clearly within the scope of his office. He deserves our applause for deciding to tackle this issue in the remaining days of his office.


briefs said...

I have to agree, the political hacks all lined up to beat up the proposal ... but wasn't that exactly the problem? Why should Voter Vault determine our districts?

Wilson46201 said...

Todd is going to be running for some new statewide office (Governor or Senator) and this ploy is a way to use taxpayer dollars to pay for a statewide personal promotion. He's planning statewide travel at taxpayer expense to gain greater visibility. He's already spent $110,000 on matters beyond his purview and scope of office. True, his suggestions are worthwhile but he's fleecing the taxpayers for his personal political gain. Very clever but wrong...

I'm surprised you fell so easily for his little scheme!

Wilson46201 said...

Todd Rokita is the politician who's running on an "anti-politician" position using taxpayers money.


Very Slick!

Paul K. Ogden said...


He's the chief election officer for the State of Indiana. How is something dealing with how elections are conducted "beyond his purview and scope of office?"

You're expecting leadership on this issue from the legislature? Never will happen. I assume that if Gov. Daniels tackled it you'd also say it's not under his duties. Actually the SOS is exactly the right person to tackle the issue of reforming the legislative districts.

As far as spending too much money, he put together three legislative maps for the state of Indiana for $50,000. Our council wants to spend $590,000 which is what they spent last time. As far as wasting taxpayer money, I think the latter if a far greater example.

Wilson, your comment just seems politically-motivated and not at all focused on the merits. I bet if this came from a Democrat candidate for SOS, you'd be praising the person for making the suggestion.

Paul K. Ogden said...

Briefs, I agree that the "who" draws the district is always the problem. Even non-partisan commissions can become intwined in politics.

I think the proposal was about showing that the districts can be drawn with the guidelines Rokita proposed. I don't think the finanl decision like this should ever be left to any private company. They only provide guidance.

jabberdoodle said...

Rokita's idea rocks. I could not care less what political ambitions he does or does not have.

This is a monumental step forward as you can tell by the reaction of the politicians in the cozy Statehouse chairs.

Better districts mean better elections mean better representation. Plus, he got some 300 districts drawn for $50,000 when the Council proposes drawing 22 for $590,000 plus court costs? Now, that's real savings from government efficiency !