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State Redistricting Process Faces Bipartisan Criticism In Southern Indiana

Indiana's District 46 is absorbed by two surrounding areas in the state's new redistricting proposal.
Indiana's District 46 is absorbed by two surrounding areas in the state's new redistricting proposal.

Southern Indiana politicians on both sides of the aisle are speaking out against the state’s redistricting process.

More than 40 Republicans signed a letter opposing Indiana’s Senate map proposals at an unrelated caucus meeting Wednesday night. Floyd County GOP Chair Jeff Firkins said local party leadership was left out of the process.

“We had to seek out information from the state,” he said. “By the time we saw that information and were brought into the fold, it had already been decided, is our understanding. [I’m] not a fan of it.”

For decades, Senate District 46 has included all of Floyd County, along with Clarksville and most of Jeffersonville. But the new map would eliminate the current district’s boundaries entirely and create a new District 46 in Marion County as part of the state’s Census-based redistricting, which happens every 10 years.

Floyd County would be split between two surrounding districts, with the western portions joining Harrison and Washington Counties in District 47. Part of New Albany would merge with District 45 alongside Clark County. Both districts would be more rural than the current District 46.

Firkins said dividing Floyd County would diminish its voice in the statehouse. That’s why the party is gathering signatures to ask state leaders to reconsider the plan.

“You have a more rural county in Washington County, and you have a rural-suburban county in Harrison,” Firkins said. “We're very suburban and somewhat urban in Floyd. So that on its face is enough to give us pause and to give us great concern on why this should be rethought.”

Like their conservative counterparts, Democrats also take issue with what they see as a lack of transparency in the map-creation process. But some of their reasoning differs from Republicans.

At a press conference Wednesday, local and state Democratic leadership argued that splitting the urban corridor between New Albany and Jeffersonville would gerrymander the region in favor of Republicans.

Floyd County Democratic Chair Adam Dickey said Indiana’s political makeup is not represented in the statehouse. He said many Hoosiers vote Democrat, citing the 2016 election in which Gov. Eric Holcomb beat Democratic challenger John Gregg by just five percentage points.

But Republicans hold a supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly, 71-29 in the House and 39-11 in the Senate. Dickey said District 46 could be a competitive race next year, but the new maps could change that.

“If we want to see good policy in the state of Indiana, we need to have an exchange of ideas between all political parties and factions,” Dickey said. “We need to be able to allow good ideas to bubble to the top. As a result of the radical gerrymandering that is happening, not only are we seeing lopsided leadership in the state, but we're seeing a jerk to the more extreme of policy ideas.”

Dickey agreed with some criticisms put forward by Republicans. He said Southern Indiana’s needs are often not considered in Indianapolis, and the new maps could further exacerbate that.

“That's unfortunate, because I think we have a tremendous amount to give our state,” Dickey said. “We’ve maybe always struggled with this, but increasingly it seems like the line for voicing consideration is somewhere north of here. And we just happen to be in this no man's land.”

The redistricting proposal also complicates the race to replace current District 46 Sen. Ron Grooms, a Republican from Jeffersonville, who isn’t seeking reelection next year. Two Republicans have already announced bids to replace him.

But under the proposed maps, they would face incumbent Sen. Erin Houchin, a Republican from Salem, in a primary to represent District 47. Floyd County resident Kevin Boehnlein, who’s endorsed by Grooms, said he’s moving forward with his campaign.

“It's never been about running against someone,” he said. “It's about running for something and doing something big for our community. And so for me, that dynamic hasn't changed at all.”

Floyd County Commissioner Shawn Carruthers, however, still hasn’t made a decision regarding his campaign. And now that Republican New Albany City Council member Al Knable has announced a bid for commissioner, Carruthers will have a primary challenger regardless of which race he competes in.

“I knew a lot of people in Clark County, as well as Floyd County,” Carruthers said. “I feel like I have a good name in both counties here. Now, I'm looking at campaigning in Harrison and Washington County, which is a completely different ballgame.”

No Democrats have joined the race for state Senate in District 46, but Dickey said he expects one to come forward.

John, News Editor for LPM, is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Email John at jboyle@lpm.org.

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