Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Rokita's Redistricting Proposal: The Good And The Bad

Secretary of State Todd Rokita (R) put forward today his own plan for reforming the way Indiana redistricts congressional and legislative districts. Some of his ideas have real merit, but his plan seems to have set off a firestorm with the legislative leaders of his own party, who think he is over-stepping his role in the constitutional process. A comment from Senate President David Long in a Star story today by Mary Beth Schneider could not have been more blunt. "I don't think it's his business," said Long. "The secretary of state has overstepped his bounds." House Minority Leader Brian Bosma (R) was no more charitable towards Rokita. "Our constitution says this is clearly a legislative function and not a function of the secretary of state's office or any other administrative office," Bosma said.

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":

•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.

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.

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.


Wilson46201 said...

Term-limited Todd Rokita is readying himself for some higher statewide office. Governor?

Now he's planning to travel statewide touting his reform plans. That gallivanting will be paid for out of his office funds (taxpayers money).

Rokita's a politician cultivating an "anti-politician" image using taxpayers funds. Slick trick!

Paul K. Ogden said...

Rokita spent $50,000 to draw three legislative maps for the entire state of Indiana. The City-County Council wants to spend $600,000 to draw one for Marion County only. That sounds like a bargain to me. Of course, you know the Marion County redistricting project will requiring the hiring of a politidcally connected law firm and a politically connected company to do the work.

I think the website does sound pricy.

Rokita is the chief election officer for Indiana. He's exactly the person who should be leading this reform charge. I don't think it's outside his scope of duties at all. I think it's refreshing to have a statewide elected official who is taking the lead on something like this.

I'm reminded of former Attorney General Steve Carter. Carter would work overtime to come up with reasons why he couldn't do anything about stuff that was repeatedly brought to his attention.

At the DOI, I had to deal with Rokita's and Carter's offices all the time. With Carter's office you could give them mortgage fraud cases involving people they regulate (real estate agents and appraisers) and they would never do anything about those fraudulent players. Rokita's office on the other hand would look into mortgage brokers who were involved in fraud. While inexperience with the complexity of real estate transactions often hampered their effort, at least the people in the SOS tried to do their job as regulators which was not the case under Carter. I'm hoping things will be different with Zoeller and there have been some encouraging signs.

IndyPaul said...

These reforms are long overdue. They should be adopted, including independant commissions, without the silly felony. I agre with AI wholeheartedly. Wow.

M Theory said...

$60,000 for a website seems very high. Who got paid to do that and what's their relationship?

Blog Admin said...

As an IT guy, it certainly is excessive. A client of mine hired someone to re-design the website, and we're estimating the cost between $2-4 grand.

That being said, it's a relatively cheap deal compared to many other government gigs.

Scott Bowers said...

Critics of Rethinking Redistricting have started to focus on the cost invested in this initiative.

In Tuesday’s Indianapolis Star article, the cost of the Rethinking Redistricting initiative was identified at a total of $110,000 - $50,000 for the development of the conceptual maps and $60,000 for the development of the website, creative, collateral materials, etc…

The key thing here is that the Secretary of State’s office spent no new money. As our office has usually been able to do, we were scheduled to give back over $300,000 from our budget to the state’s general fund. Instead, we reverted almost $210,000 and set the rest aside for this project, all blessed by the State Budget Agency.

But to fully complete the picture of the true cost of this initiative, there’s even more you should know. The $50,000 is a “contractual not to exceed” amount and the true cost of the maps will come in at a fraction, approximately two-thirds.

In regards to the $60,000 allocated to getting the message out to voters and taxpayers, less than half was used for the development of the Rethinking Redistricting website. The remaining amount was used to develop the necessary resources to help better alert and inform the public on this matter.

In his continued commitment to fiscal stewardship, Secretary Rokita turned in a biennial operating budget earlier this year for the Secretary of State’s office that is the same, unadjusted for inflation, as the budget approved for the Secretary of State in 1987. Under Secretary Rokita’s leadership, the Secretary of State’s office has been able to reduce costs by adopting innovative business practices and technologies to deliver services more efficiently. In fact, we were able to reduce the physical footprint of government by reducing the physical office size by over 30,000 feet this year alone.

The reality is that the redistricting process can and should be improved through a core set of criteria, increased transparency of the process, and the use of Hoosier common sense. It’s not rocket science, as the conceptual maps clearly show. That’s not to say the conceptual maps are the ideal but that they are at least a roadmap to something a whole lot better than what currently exists today.

Scott Bowers
Deputy Secretary of State & Chief of Staff
Indiana Secretary of State Todd Rokita

Citizen Kane said...

Scott B, was that supposed to make us feel better - no new money? New, old, rotten, whatever - the fact is your office spent money (excessively as government is wont to do) that it had no business spending. Stop trying to defend waste.

IndyPaul said...

Kudos to a public official for sticking his neck out on this site. Money well spent, IMHO.

dcrutch said...

Hallelujah to anybody supporting any shot at impartial redistricting. The legislature is unhappy with Secretary Rokita sticking his nose in this business? The same legislature with well over 80% incumbency retention rates by any measure & approximately 40% of races not even having an opponent? The same legislature that pretty much brushed aside Kernan-Shepard, lobbyist reform, illegal hiring, & ratification of tax caps- but managed to have some sort of coronation for sugar cream pie! If the ice cream man I hear driving through the neigborhood stumbles to my house with a plans to redistrict, that's a step up from our ace public servants. Secretary Rokita could be arm-in-arm with Van Jones, the hammmer and sickle in a crimson field flapping overhead, and he'd still have made more progress on redistricting than our beloved statehouse legislators- of both parties.