Redistricting reform advocates entered this year’s session of the Indiana General Assembly with high hopes.

They’d been traveling the state to drum up support for a citizenled redistricting commission. They wanted to take politics out of the process, to put citizens in charge of drawing the boundaries of legislative and congressional districts, and they were hoping this would be the year their efforts finally paid off.

It won’t be.

The bill that would have created that commission failed to get out of committee. Instead, reform advocates have been left with an alternative measure, Senate Bill 105.

The bill sponsored by Republican state Sen. Greg Walker of Columbus would require lawmakers to create geographically compact districts that keep together communities of interest. The measure also would prohibit lawmakers from considering where incumbents live in drawing district lines, and it would bring much needed transparency, requiring a public explanation of any deviation from those guidelines.

Supporters acknowledge the bill isn’t what they wanted. Still, it’s a step in the right direction.

What we really need is to take politics out of the equation. We need maps drawn with a goal of producing competitive elections.

Clearly, not every district can be like that. Some will always be lopsided toward one party or the other.

The fact remains that way too many districts are drawn with the goal of giving one party the advantage. Elections in those districts are effectively over in the primary, and that means the winners rarely see a need to compromise.

They find themselves catering exclusively to the base of their parties. Keep the base happy, and you stay in office. Reach across the aisle, and you might find yourself on the outside looking in.

The result is a loss of moderate voices.

Maybe one of these days, Indiana politicians will hand over control of this process. For now, though, SB 105 is the only game in town.

One of the bill’s co-sponsors is Sen. John Ruckelshaus, an Indianapolis Republican who has long supported redistricting reform. In fact, support for this cause runs in the Ruckelshaus family. Ruckelshaus recently talked about a newspaper clipping he had received in the mail concerning a Sen. Ruckelshaus who was a champion of redistricting reform.

The article was from 1956, and the senator in question was the current senator’s father.

Ruckelshaus knows all about gerrymandering. When the Democrats were in charge of drawing the maps, he found himself drawn out of his own district.

To his credit, Ruckelshaus continues to push for reform even now when his party has a stranglehold on the levers of power in Indiana.

We can’t say as much for House Speaker Brian Bosma (R-Indiananapols), who once was a vocal advocate for reform. When the Democrats were in charge of the House,

Bosma promised voters that when it regained control his party would create a bipartisan redistricting commission. He criticized the Democrats for refusing to join the effort.

Now, it’s the Democrats calling for reform, while Bosma’s commitment seems to have waned.

The clock on this reform effort is ticking. New district lines will be drawn in 2021, and reform advocates know that time is running out if they are going to push through any changes ahead of this once-a-decade process.

An interim study committee in 2016 recommended doing what Bosma had promised to do, but legislation to make it happen went nowhere.

Thus, we have the bill now pending in the House Elections and Apportionment Committee. Last year, a similar measure failed even to get a hearing in that committee.

Will this year be any different? We’ll find out soon.

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