Saturday, October 6, 2012

Are Marion County State Senate Seats Ready to Turn Blue?

The Marion County state senate districts demonstrate an inviolable fact of gerrymandering.  Success can breed failure.  When a majority party goes into redistricting with too many incumbents to protect, partisan margins gets sliced creating numerous competitive seats.  Incumbents, who never had competition, suddenly find themselves in a battle to retain their seats. Then, if a partisan wave hits for the minority party, scores of majority party incumbents are swept out of power leaving the minority party with many more seats, if not in a majority.
New Marion County State Senate Districts (click to enlarge)
That is the situation faced by the Republican state senate in 2011 when redistricting took place.  The GOP had an embarrassment of riches.  The GOP had just won landslide victories in the 2010 election.  The Republicans held 37 or 74% of the 50 seats in a state in which the Republican statewide baseline is perhaps 56%.

The problem was that drawing 37 safe seats for Republicans was impossible. You simply can't pack enough Democratic-leaning voters into the 13 Democratic seats to spread the margins sufficiently to protect Republican incumbents in the other 37 districts.  The Democratic-leaning voters had to go someplace and that place was into Republican districts.  The result is that margins in districts were cut significantly, making once safe Republican seats competitive.
When those in charge of redistricting decided to cut Republican state senate district margins, the No. 1 place they went to was Marion County.  Although Marion County turned blue in about 2000 and since has become a solidly Democratic county, six of the eight senate districts concentrated in Marion County are still held by Republicans.  How does that happen?  In 2001, the Republican-controlled state senate drew the Marion County state senate districts to include portions of neighboring counties that had a strong Republican vote.  That made the districts safe for the Republicans.
In 2011, faced with an overwhelming success statewide, the Republican-controlled state senate had to cut state senate district margins.  The districts that were hit the worst were the Marion County GOP Senate districts.  The fact that those districts are now much closer can be ascertained by looking at where those districts are and the quality of opponents those Republican incumbents drew.
Four Marion County Republican state senate districts face opponents this year.  Let's look at their districts.
Senate District 30 (most of Washington Township, parts of Carmel and Fishers in Hamilton County)
Incumbent Scott Schneider is facing off against Tim Delaney, son of State Representative Ed Delaney

Senate District 32 (includes the southern part of Warren Township, all of Franklin Township and portions of eastern Center and Perry Townships)  
This district is now entirely contained in Marion County.  Incumbent and long-time legislator Republican Pat Miller faces former Democratic state representative John Barnes whose former house district includes much of the new Senate District 32.
Senate District 35 (includes Speedway, southern Wayne Township, southern 1/3 of Hendricks County including Plainfield and Clayton) 
This district features a battle between incumbent and long-time legislator Republican Mike Young and Democratic attorney Mark Waterfill.  While the Marion County area of the district is Democratic, the Hendricks County area tips the district to the Republicans.  However, Waterfill has lived in the Hendricks County portion of the district for years and may be able to blunt Young's appeal to Republicans. 
Senate District 36 (includes a good chunk of Center Township, Perry Township and a sliver of Johnson County where incumbent State Senator Brent Waltz resides.) 
Republican Waltz is facing a challenge by former Democratic former state representative Mary Sullivan whose house district included much of Senate District 36.
Democrats have shots at all four of those seats.
Then in 2014, State Senate District 29 will be up.
Senate District 29 (includes part of the western half of Wayne Township and most of Pike Township. The district goes north picking up portions of Boone County (Zionsville) and Hamilton County (Carmel.) 
This district is held by Republican State Senator Mike Delph. While Delph had a difficult re-election in the old district in 2010, it appears that some efforts have been made to try to shore up the district a bit. 
The only Marion County State Senate district that appears to be safe for Republicans during the next decade is Senate District 31 which includes most of Lawrence and Fishers and is currently held by Republican Jim Merritt.

Bottom line is that Republicans could end up losing a couple Marion County state senate seats next election and by the end of the decade it is quite possible that the 6-2 Republican margin in state senate seats becomes a 6-2 or even a 7-1 Democratic margin.  Republicans are going to have to pour a ton of money into defending those Marion County-based state senate districts.  Given the fact the Marion County GOP organization is only a shadow of its former self, it is unlikely that the GOP will be able to hold onto those districts as more and more Democratic-leaning voters move into what was once comfortable Republican territory.

No comments: