So what exactly did Rokita propose that has his party's leaders so upset with him? Here are the proposals he outlines on a website he set up specifically for this project, "rethinkingredistricting.com":
I can't argue with any of those basic concepts. I particularly liked his proposal to nestle two house districts within a corresponding senate district. I was surprised to learn that this had not been the practice in Indiana when I moved here from Illinois, where two house districts were always nestled within the same senate district. Rokita's suggestions should be utilized by lawmakers as a matter of course as they set about the task of drawing district lines. A press release issued by Long today confirms his support for many of Rokita's suggestions for drawing boundaries.
•Reduce voters' confusion about who represents them by following already existing political boundaries such as county and township lines
•Keep communities of interest together
Some district lines are drawn in a way that segments groups of constituents that are otherwise united through county, city and school district lines. This criterion seeks to avoid unnecessary division of voters who share the same community and often the same priorities, views and motivations.
•Create more compact and geographically uniform districts
A more logical system to redraw Indiana’s maps would create more uniform districts. More than an aesthetic preference, this action would improve government accessibility and raise constituents’ awareness of their district and its distinct, local issues of concern.
•“Nest” two house districts under the existing lines of a senate district
This would result in even more accountability and further lessen confusion about who represents you.
•Maintain population balance
Redrawing of district lines should be accomplished in a manner that continues to balance population, but not be so stringent that the other criteria listed are devalued. •Not use any political data including incumbent addresses.
What I don't like is a proposal found in the Star story but not on Rokita's website. "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," Schneider writes. I'm curious as to how Rokita could draft a criminal statute that makes political thought a felony. Good luck finding a prosecutor in this state who would ever prosecute such a crime, let alone a judge who wouldn't strike it down as unconstitutional.
Rokita's plan does not call for an independent commission to draw legislative districts, an idea I personally prefer to remove political considerations from the process. That is an idea that has been embraced by Bosma but viewed negatively by Long. "While this is a concept that should be thoroughly explored, and may in fact be the best way to manage redistricting for future generations of Hoosiers, the fact remains that the Indiana Constitution requires the state legislature to handle this task," Long says. Long contends that a constitutional amendment would have to be adopted before the legislature could statutorily create an independent commission to draw the maps. I agree with Long that the Constitution clearly delegates the responsibility for redistricting to the legislature; however, I'm not convinced that an independent commission created by the legislature would be deemed unconstitutional. Constitutional concerns could be somewhat alleviated by requiring final approval of the maps proposed by the Commission by the legislature before they became law.
This is not the first time such an argument has been proffered in the context of legislative proposals. During the debate over UniGov in 1969, proponents of the government consolidation rejected calls for a county-wide referendum, arguing that only the legislature could decide the question. A referendum, they argued, could only be advisory. The UniGov proponents based their contention on the fact that the Indiana Constitution only provided for a public referendum process for the adoption of constitutional amendments and for no other matters. This view has clearly been rejected more recently. For example, state law now allows voters to vote on the approval of larger public works projects that require the issuance of bonds to finance them. Last year, Marion County voters were allowed to decide at a public referendum whether to abolish the position of township assessors. These statutory public referenda are binding and not merely advisory.
I was disturbed to read in Schneider's story that Rokita has spent more than $100,000 on this redistricting project, particularly since he has no statutory responsibility for this task. He spent $50,000 on a firm that drew up sample legislative maps and another $60,000 to create a website. Obviously, he's not frugal with our taxpayers dollars. A similar website could have been designed for less than a $1,000. Someone also reminded me the other day of a story former Star reporter John Strauss wrote several years ago describing how he had been able to acquire a software license for redistricting software for a few hundred bucks that allowed him to draw Indiana's legislative maps. Strauss compared that figure with the enormous sums state lawmakers spent preparing competing legislative maps. It appears to me that the consultant took taxpayers to the cleaners charging $50,000 to simply draw sample legislative maps. That's not as bad, however, as what the Indianapolis City-County Council Republicans are proposing to do. They plan to spend $600,000 on redistricting consultants over the next two years, even though state law will not permit them to redraw districts based on the decennial census before 2012.