by Abdul-Hakim Shabazz
This week Indiana lawmakers will very likely approve legislative maps for Congress and those for the Indiana House and Senate. Critics say the maps were not drawn to create competitive races, but instead, the districts were gerrymandered for Republicans to keep their overwhelming majorities in the legislature.
I will have to respectfully disagree with my friends and colleagues. I argue, ladies and gentlemen, that the GOP didn’t really have to engage in much gerrymandering because of the natural political demographics of Indiana and how they have changed over the years. And if Democrats want to win elections, they need to present ideas to the voters, not count on political boundaries.
For example, in 1991, Democrats controlled the House of Representatives 52-48 and then went to 55-45. But then came the Republican revolution of 1994. Republicans took control of the House 56-44. They won on ideas and a lot of voters being mad at then-President Bill Clinton. Democrats came back with a 50-50 split and then controlled the House from 1999-2005. And even though they drew the House maps in 2000, Republicans managed to win in 2004, when Mitch Daniels got elected. Still, the GOP lost control in 2006 and 2008, regained power in 2010, and has the House Chamber ever since.
Meanwhile, looking at the Congressional map, Democrats controlled the map 7-2 in 1992, but that flipped in 1994, and Republicans were the majority of the delegation until 2006 and regained it 2010. Once again, it wasn’t necessarily political lines that gave Republicans their control, but ideas that appealed to Hoosiers.
And if Democrats want to get back in the majority, they need to present ideas and an agenda to voters. Now it helps if voters are angry at the incumbents, i.e., Richard Mourdock and Tony Bennett in 2012, but you can’t count on anger all the time to win an election; you need ideas, and you need to reach voters where they are.
In the current maps, Republicans didn’t have to do much gerrymandering because of the political demographics of Indiana. For example, there used to be a lot of Democrats in Southern Indiana, that’s not the case anymore. As the national and state parties drifted to the left, a lot of those conservative Democrats turned into Republicans, which is why if you can find a Democrat south of I-70 outside of Terre Haute, Bloomington Evansville, and Jeffersonville, go buy yourself a lottery ticket, because it’s your lucky day.
And while we’re talking about “fair maps,” don’t forget, Libertarian Donald Rainwater came in second in about 30-plus counties in 2020 during his run for Governor. So how do we adjust for that? I’m just wondering out loud here.
Now, this doesn’t mean there weren’t some politics being played, notably when you look at the 5th Congressional District, but even then, the GOP only delayed the inevitable as the southern portion of Hamilton County becomes more purple (or burgundy) and less red. But that’s at least two to three election cycles from now.
In a nutshell, folks, the GOP did what the GOP was legally required to do with the current maps, maintain as close to equal populations in all districts, be contiguous and not dilute minority voting power. There was only a one-percent deviation in House District populations, literally, a one-to-two-vote difference in Congressional District population, and minority lawmakers were virtually untouched. Anything else would be extra. But let’s face it, for now, Indiana is a Republican state and will be for the near future.
If Democrats want to win in Indiana, they need to offer up ideas and meet the voters where they are. Lines on a map won’t matter, nor should they.\
Abdul-Hakim Shabazz is an attorney licensed in Indiana and Illinois and the editor and publisher of IndyPolitics.Org.