October 13, 2021

Redistricting: Power Delineated

by Leo Morris

Here’s the remarkable opening sentence of one of the many stories about the Hoosier GOP’s “disputed” and “contentious” redistricting plan:

“Two independent analyses of Indiana’s redistricting maps say the districts drawn by Republicans are heavily skewed in favor of Republicans.”

Seriously? The party in charge of redrawing election maps redraws them so that it stays in control? How in the world did that happen?

A little clarification here for those who don’t think about politics all the time.

When Republicans say they did their best to keep districts compact without breaking up cities or counties unnecessarily, what they mean is: We can do whatever we want, deal with it, or, more bluntly: Nyah, nyah, nyah.

When Democrats say Republicans are being unfair, what they mean is: We want more seats in the legislature, and you won’t give them to us, waaaah.

And when “objective, neutral” observers such as the League of Women Voters say an independent commission needs to redraw the districts to protect voter interests, what they mean is: Let more Democrats win.

This is not about Republicans losing control. Voters statewide tend to vote for Republicans about 60 percent of the time, so the GOP would likely keep the legislature no matter how the districts are drawn. It’s about them continuing to win 70 to 80 percent of legislative seats to keep their super majority.

And it’s not a tale of rapacious Republicans and feckless Democrats.

Just across the border in Illinois, it’s the same play but with the characters all switched around. There, the Democrats have the nyah-nyah-nyah super majority, the Republicans are having a waaaah temper tantrum, and the neutral observer’s definition of fairness is, “Let more Republicans win.”


What a word to throw around about politics. What we’re seeing is a lesson in power. Those who don’t have it crave it. Those who have it want to keep it and increase it. So, the best thing to do, for those who would be subjected to that power, is to diffuse it, put roadblocks in front of it.

There’s another lesson in power – perhaps not a more important one but a more interesting one – in the fight between the governor and the General Assembly.

Indiana has a weak governor who would like to be stronger.

That’s not a criticism of Eric Holcomb’s character. His weakness is just a directive from the Indiana Constitution, which gives the General Assembly the ability to override a gubernatorial veto with a simple majority, rather than the, um, super majority required in most states, and he can’t exercise a line-item veto or pocket veto.

So, imagine his feeling of liberation when the Covid pandemic hit, and he could exercise emergency powers to protect Hoosier health. He liked that so much that he has extended his special authority for the 19th time, surely straining the definition of “emergency” to the limit.

And imagine his consternation when the General Assembly decided, hey, shouldn’t we have a say in this, and shouldn’t we be able to decide when to have a special session instead of waiting around for the governor to call one?

A judge has ruled in favor of the legislature, and the governor is mulling whether to challenge it. If he does, it will require an intervention by the Indiana Supreme Court. That’s called separation of powers, which our Founders wisely prescribed for the federal government but works quite well at the state level, too.

So, yes, it’s important who is in the General Assembly. If the Democrats had a bigger minority, the GOP might have to pay more attention to them. But if that means more legislation, what legislators do becomes more important.

And how much power they have, and who can check it. And what the governor wants to do and who will let him or stop him. And how the court will balance the competing interests.

Of course, all this has to put in perspective by voters depending on their baseline beliefs. Is the purpose of government mostly to decide what we need and give us better lives? Or is it mostly to protect our rights and otherwise leave us alone?

Considered in that context, counting Republican and Democratic heads in the General Assembly gets close to “don’t sweat the small stuff” territory.

Leo Morris, columnist for The Indiana Policy Review, is winner of the Hoosier Press Association’s award for Best Editorial Writer. Morris, as opinion editor of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel, was named a finalist in editorial writing by the Pulitzer Prize committee. Contact him at


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