INDIANAPOLIS — Among the deadlines that could be missed if House Democrats fail to return soon to the Indiana Statehouse is the one for redrawing U.S. congressional districts.
If that happens, the job of deciding how to divvy up the voting districts for the Indiana delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives — based on recently released Census numbers — would fall to a five-member commission that will be dominated by Republicans.
The redistricting question — and the deadline that looms ahead for it — is just one of the many “What ifs?” being asked these days in the wake of a threat by House Democrats to shut down the current legislative session scheduled to end April 29.
“We’re entering into uncharted territory,” said Rep. Steve Stemler of Jeffersonville, the sole House Democrat who chose not to participate in a quorum-busting walkout that began Feb. 21. That “uncharted territory” phrase was repeated by Republican Rep. Eric Turner of Marion, who is the assistant leader of the GOP caucus.
No end to the standoff appears in sight. The two House Democrats picked by their party leader to show up at the Statehouse Tuesday — to make sure a roll call of members was taken — repeated the pledge made Monday by Democrat Rep. Terry Goodin of Austin to stay out “as long as it takes.”
Goodin said House Democrats who’ve been holed up in a hotel in Urbana, Ill., are willing to shut down the current legislative session unless House Republicans meet their demands to back off on a series of bills that would impact labor unions and public education.
If they carry through on that threat, the Indiana General Assembly would miss the deadline to redraw the political boundary maps that must be updated for the federal congressional districts every decade, using new census data.
The Indiana Constitution requires legislators who are elected in the year when the census is taken to redraw the state legislative district maps by the end of their two-year term. That means the current legislature has until the end of 2012 to complete that task.
But Indiana state law, enacted in 1969, requires lawmakers to get the job done quicker when it comes to the federal congressional districts. The law reads: “Congressional districts shall be established by law at the first regular session of the general assembly convening immediately following the United States decennial census.”
The law then goes on to say what happens if they fail: A five-member redistricting commission “shall be established” within 30 days of the end of the regular legislative session, which by law is April 29.
The law also spells out who is on the commission: the speaker of the House, the president pro tem of the Senate and the chairmen of the Senate and House committees that oversee redistricting matters. All those positions are held by Republicans.
The fifth member of the commission must be appointed by the governor.
In this case, that’s Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels, who has in the past vowed to veto any redistricting plan that came out of the legislature that wasn’t fair and equitable.
It’s the governor, who by law, must also approve any redistricting plan that would come out the five-member redistricting commission.
Redrawing the political boundaries that decide what state and federal districts look like is a contentious process since it can determine the partisan flavor of an election and tip the results in the favor of the political party in power.
Fights over redistricting lead to legislative walkouts in the past, by Senate Democrats in 1991 and House Republicans in 2001.