By Scott Tibbs, Wednesday, June 14, 2006
The state Libertarian Party points out that 44 of 100 seats in the Indiana House of Representatives are currently not contested. (House races are every two years.) One of those seats is held by moderate Democrat Peggy Welch, who ironically represents a GOP-majority district. Dan Drexler of the Indiana LP said that this unfortunate situation is the "result of years of political manipulation of our districts by the D's and R's."
I sent an electronic mail to my local legislators and leaders in both chambers a few months ago supporting House Speaker Brian Bosma's proposal to turn redrawing of legislative districts over to a non-partisan commission. I got a response from Senator Robert Garton pointing out that the party that drew the legislative districts in 1981, 1991 and 2001 lost control of the House later that decade. Garton used this as evidence that legislative districts are competitive.
It is hard to argue with 44 uncontested races, though. While some are uncontested because no one wanted to take on a popular incumbent with a vice-like grip on the district, many more are uncontested because the district is drawn to heavily favor one party or another. Matt Pierce's District 61 was drawn to be heavily Democratic and has had no Republican challenger in the general election for three of the last four election cycles.
Garton's point is countered easily enough. Control of the House is often determined by "swing" districts where the number of Republicans and Democrats is fairly even. The fact that control of the House switches back and forth does not indicate that the majority of the individual districts are competitive, it simply means there are enough "swing" districts to throw the Speaker's chair to the other party if there is a statewide or national tide on favor of the minority.
Unfortunately, Bosma's proposal was shot down, but there is still plenty of time to make the drawing of legislative districts reflect what benefits the people rather than what benefits the politicians. If this is not an issue in the 2006 mid-term elections, I hope one of the candidates for governor makes the issue prominent in 2008.