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:
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.
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."