Sad Day for Democracy

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February 16, 2017 4:04 PM

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You may not have heard about it in the news, but democracy lost a round at the Statehouse yesterday afternoon.

Hundreds of Hoosiers packed the fourth floor of our capitol to attend the Indiana House Elections and Apportionment committee hearing, where a bill to end partisan gerrymandering was under consideration.

I was one of them, and I found myself surrounded by optimistic citizen activists. For many of them, this was the first hearing they had ever attended. They were excited to take part in the process. I’ve been to a lot of hearings, and I found myself lamenting that I was not nearly as excited as they were. How did I get so jaded?

Rep. Milo Smith, who chairs the committee, reminded me and taught them.

First, a little background on the issue: This summer, a study committee created by the General Assembly to address legislative redistricting approved a recommendation to end gerrymandering.

State Representative Jerry Torr authored HB 1014 based on those recommendations. The bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by House Speaker Brian Bosma, Rep. John Bartlett, and Rep. Justin Moed.

The bill had not been given a hearing so Hoosiers started a grassroots effort to call their legislators and the committee members. And folks, this was not the easy version of contacting legislators. No website with two links to call or email. People who took this action spent a decent amount of time to look up the legislators and contact them. Still, hundreds of calls and emails poured in. It worked. They got a hearing. Or at least they thought they did.

What Rep. Milo Smith held yesterday was less hearing, more farce.

Rep. Smith knew there would be a larger number of attendees than usual so they had already planned to have the meeting in a larger room. When people were pouring out the door and filling the hallway, they moved the hearing to the House chambers. The floor and the gallery upstairs were all filled.

The hearing was going well enough. We were told there would be an hour spent on the issue. All the testifiers supported the bill except one.

Testimony wrapped up, and we were all anxious for the vote—but Rep. Smith indicated there would not be a vote because one of the committee members could not get their amendments drafted in what Smith actually called “a timely manner.”

Forget that the committee sat on the bill for weeks. Forget that amendments could be offered from the floor of the House once the bill was through committee. Forget that Rep. Smith left this issue to the last regularly scheduled committee hearing before the halfway point in the session.

No vote.

Democrats on the committee ask if another committee hearing would be scheduled. To be determined, replied Rep. Milo Smith.

Honestly, it was pathetic. Hundreds of Hoosiers made it a priority to show up even though they only had 24 hours notice. The absolute minimum they deserved was a vote.

I am a partisan Republican, but I support ending gerrymandering because it is good government.

We should install a process that draws state legislative districts based on keeping communities of interest like cities, towns and counties in the same district. It makes it easier for legislators to serve their communities and for citizens to know their legislators and be active in the electoral process.

Regardless of where you stand on the bill, Hoosiers deserve a vote when hundreds show up to see an issue debated in committee.

Agree? Good. Now is the part where you can do something about it.

Email Rep. Milo Smith (H59@iga.in.gov) and tell him you expect to see this issue brought up for a vote.

Email Speaker Brian Bosma (H88@iga.in.gov) and tell him the same thing.

Click here and email the entire committee.

Visit https://openstates.org/find_your_legislator/ to find your legislator and contact them as well.

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