By Scott Tibbs, October 3, 2005
Well, the Commissioners voted to change the districts this past Friday. (Click the link above for the new maps, and the old County Council map.) Democrats aren't happy about it, and have promised to make it a campaign issue in the 2006 elections.
County Clerk Jim Fielder was quoted by AM 1370 as saying that changing the districts would make local politics more divisive than it is now.
With all due respect to my friend Mr. Fielder, the level of civility in county politics is already very low. I do not think changing the districts will have any real impact on the level of local political discourse. Any impact it has would be the equivalent of a firecracker at Hiroshima. We have high-level Democratic activists physically intimidating people they disagree with at public meetings, in addition to all sorts of venomous, hate-filled personal attacks.
The 2-1 vote on Friday was changed both the Commissioner and the Council districts. Herb Kilmer said at the Friday Lunch Bunch that he expected there to be two votes, one for each map, but was surprised to see that the maps had been rolled into one piece of legislation. He voted for it anyway, voting himself out of his own district and making himself a lame duck. Kilmer will not be able to run for re-election in 2006.
This is unfortunate. I would have preferred Kilmer vote against the measure and request a "clean" vote for the October 14 meeting. While the new County Council map certainly complies with the law more closely than the Democrats' 2001 gerrymandered map, it would not hurt anything to wait two or four weeks to approve the new districts.
I applaud Kilmer's decision that his own political future was secondary to County Council maps that more closely comply with the law and are not politically gerrymandered. But while I admire his integrity, I do not agree with the vote. The new Commissioner maps make it possible that all three Commissioners will be residents of the city of Bloomington, and we need someone on the Commissioners representing rural interests.
In terms of the old council maps versus the new one, one look says it all. The new districts are more compact, follow natural boundaries more closely, and are closer in population than the gerrymandered districts the Democrats drew in 2001.
With all of that said, the maps are not perfect and I still am not sold on the idea that doing a mid-decade redistricting was a good idea. There has not been a significant shift in population that would make redistricting necessary to even things out. Furthermore, I the new maps weaken the Republican hold on District 3 and have made Kilmer a lame duck. Not only have Republicans taken a lot of political heat for doing this, they have managed to approve maps that hurt Republicans in the 2006 elections. While it is clear to all but the most partisan Democrats that the 2001 maps were gerrymandered, the maps can be fixed in 2011 if there are two GOP County Commissioners after the 2008 and 2010 elections.
Furthermore, I am not sure it is good government to pit two sitting County Council members (Marty Hawk and Mark Stoops) against each other in the same district. When the Democrats in the State Legislature drew their gerrymandered maps for the new Congressional districts in 2001, they had no choice but to put two sitting members of Congress in one district because Indiana lost a seat. The County Council is not shrinking, so more effort should have been made to avoid pitting two sitting Councilors against each other.
The new maps may lead to a political realignment with Marty Hawk considering a run for County Commissioner in 2006. I think this is a bad idea, and I have told Ms. Hawk this. We have few people in county government with a mind for numbers like Ms. Hawk has, and it would be a shame to lose her insight on the County Council. While I am sure she would make a great County Commissioner, I think that Monroe County taxpayers would lose too much by not having her watching over the county budget like a hawk. (Yes, I know that was a horrible pun.)
It will be very interesting to see how this plays out over the next 13 months leading up to November 7, 2006.