Thursday, February 3, 2011

Why the Indiana Republicans' Big Legislative Victories Could Make a Successful Gerrymander Problematic

On Election Night 2010, the Republicans scored historical victories in 125 legislative races. The General Assembly went from being controlled by the Democrats 52-48 to a Republican majority 60-40. The Senate increased from 33-17 Republican. to 36-14.

When the General Assembly begins the process of redistricting in in a few weeks, the Republican domination of the two chambers should provide helping in helping Republican leaders draw maps that ensure GOP control of the next decade to come, right?

Actually, no. There is a problem that Senate President Pro Tem David Long and Speaker Brian Bosma know is coming down the road.

First a primer on gerrymandering. The idea behind gerrymandering is to create a large number of close but safe seats for the majority party while conceding a smaller number to the minority party. In the majority party's districts, generally you shoot for victories around 60-40. In the districts conceded to the minority parties, you draw them so the minority party wins about 80-20, packing in as many votes as you can. It's all about spreading out the majority vote, and packing the minority vote ,in such a way as to accomplish the majority party's goal of retaining a majority in the legislative body.

When the census figures comes out later this month, members of the majority party will start start knocking on the doors of leadership pleading that their district be kept as Republican as it currently is or made even more Republican. Republicans now have 60% of the seats in the House and 72% of the seats in the Senate. During a normal legislative election, Republicans get about 55% of the legislative vote statewide.

The problem is that the Election of 2010 was too good for Republicans. Many Republicans won in Democratic districts or marginal districts at best. Those new Republican legislators will want to be protected. That leaves leaders like Bosma with a dilemma - do you sacrifice some Republicans to create safe majority seats that can survive good Democratic years, or do you start cutting the margins on the majority districts, say from 60-40 to 55-45, to help more incumbents?

What happens is that the closer you cut the margins, the more likely that a good year by the minority party will sweep out scores of incumbents of the majority party, possibly even giving the minority party the majority.

That could well be one reason why Long and Bosma are advocates of redistricting reform. While that reform would generally help Republicans who are a majority party in the state, it is also a way that leadership can answer incumbents pleading for protection, protection that undermines the Republican Party in its quest to hold onto a majority into the next decade.

1 comment:

Pete Boggs said...

Could that be good news for Marion County, if the party decides to take it, smaller government & the tea party seriously?