First published June 16, 2021 in TheStatehouseFile.com  and The Indiana Citizen.

Jeb Bardon knew it was over for Democrats in Indiana a decade ago, as soon as he saw the new maps.

Drafted behind closed doors by a small group of the Republicans who had solidified their control of the Indiana General Assembly in 2010, House Bills 1601 and 1602 — using fresh census data to redraw the state’s congressional and legislative districts for the next 10 years — were pushed through the House and the Senate during a few days at the end of the 2011 legislative session.

“It was almost like being at a wake in a funeral home,” said then-state Rep. Bardon, member of a House Democratic caucus left demoralized by its new minority status and a fruitless six-week walkout.

Democrats were going to be “blown into oblivion,” he thought at the time, and it’s turned out even worse than he expected.

The 2011 redistricting set the stage for a Republican supermajority in the House, expanding from 60-40 after the 2010 election to 69-31 in 2012 (the first election with the redrawn legislative maps) to the current margin of 71-29.

In the Senate, where Republicans already held a 37-13 supermajority, their margin has been as lopsided as 41-9 in the decade since the 2011 redistricting. They now hold 39 seats.

Going into 2010, Democrats had a 5-4 edge in the Indiana congressional delegation. Republicans flipped two Democratic seats in 2010 and added a third with the new map in 2012, giving them a 7-2 margin that hasn’t changed since.

The redistricting process in 2011 — one that Republicans extolled as being the most open in history — remains shrouded in mystery a decade later.

The biggest questions: Who actually drew the maps? And to what degree were they the product of GOP strategists involved in Project REDMAP, an operation launched by the national Republican State Leadership Committee in early 2010 and aimed at gaining the state legislative majorities needed to control the 2011 redistricting process?

Those who could provide the answers aren’t talking. None of the Republican legislative leadership at the center of Indiana’s 2011 redistricting agreed to interview requests from The Indiana Citizen.

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Indiana was among several states, including Iowa, Kentucky, Oregon and Maine, where the RSLC spent a total of $3 million on state legislative races, according to a REDMAP summary report produced by the RSLC.

“What they did was focus on states where Republicans could control every step of the process,” said David Daley, author of “Rat F**ked, Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count,” an account of the GOP’s strategy in Project REDMAP first published in 2016.

“They tried to focus on winning trifectas’’— both legislative chambers as well as the governor’s office —‘’in states where just a handful of seats separated Republicans and Democrats,” he said.

Indiana—where Democrats controlled the House, 52-48 — was one of them.

From Wisconsin to Michigan and Ohio to Texas, the RSLC spent millions, including $18 million after Labor Day alone, to win seats in state legislatures, RSLC documents show.

The RSLC donated $100,000 to the Indiana Republican State Committee on Oct. 20, 2010, two weeks before the Nov. 2 election, according to campaign finance records filed with the Indiana Election Commission.

In fact, the RSLC bragged about the effectiveness of the party’s strategy in the same REDMAP report summarizing the impact of its strategy: “The REDMAP effort implemented during the 2010 election cycle focused resources on critical state-level races in states projected to gain or lose congressional seats in reapportionment, and realized enormous success on Election Day in 2010.”  

The late GOP strategist Thomas Hofeller prepared a document, “The Current Redistricting Report,” dated Feb. 14, 2012, for his firm, Geographic Strategies, where he said of Indiana, “The GOP should do well in this state with few problems. The RNC is somewhat involved — particularly in the legal strategy. Look for marginal improvement in GOP seats.”

Daley calls Hofeller the face of modern gerrymandering. He obtained the documents following Hofeller’s death in 2018 and many were published at the nonprofit investigative website The Intercept in 2019.

***

Documents show that GOP strategists at the national level were paying close attention to Indiana’s redistricting process, though it’s unclear who, if anyone, associated with Project REDMAP, the RSLC or the RNC was involved in actually drawing the maps.

Indiana GOP political operative Anne Hathaway is listed as a member of the Project REDMAP steering committee in a document released as part of a lawsuit filed in Michigan challenging the way the maps were drawn in that state in 2011.

Hathaway worked for the Republican National Committee, for Dan Quayle when he was vice president, and was a member of the transition committee for Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb after his election in 2016.

But Hathaway stated flatly — in a voice mail message in response to inquiries from The Indiana Citizen about her role in drawing Indiana’s maps in 2011—“I was not involved in that.”

She did not respond to a separate message asking what her role with Project REDMAP involved.

The Republicans in the Indiana General Assembly most closely involved in working on the new maps were the chairs of their chambers’ elections committees, then-Rep. and now Sen. Eric Koch of Bedford and Sen. Michael Young of Indianapolis. Both declined requests for an interview.

So did David Long of Fort Wayne, who was Senate president pro tempore at the time and has since retired, and Holcomb, who was chairman of the state GOP in 2011; typically, the chair of the majority party’s state committee is drawn into the remapping process. Former state Sen. Murray Clark, an Indianapolis Republican who was state party chair until stepping down at the end of 2010, did not respond to an interview request. 

Two others also did not respond to messages — Connie Lawson of Danville, then a member of the Senate Elections Committee and later Indiana secretary of state; and Patricia Miller of Indianapolis, also a state senator who has since retired.

Then-House Speaker Brian Bosma, of Indianapolis, initially agreed to be interviewed but then changed his mind.

“I have concluded virtually anything I say has the potential to impact litigation, which it appears will proliferate this go around, so I have settled on silence,” Bosma wrote in a text message. Reminded that he was being asked about the 2011 redistricting, Bosma responded that the “2011 process could easily become evidence for 2021.”

Mitch Daniels, now president of Purdue University, was governor at the time and also declined through a spokesman to be interviewed about the 2011 map drawing.

“The General Assembly drew the maps in 2011, so members would be best suited to address the issue. President Daniels doesn’t have anything to offer,” said Daniels’ spokesman Tim Doty in an email; while the legislature did indeed draw the maps, Daniels signed into law the legislation implementing the new boundaries.

Among Republicans asked to discuss their roles in the 2011 redistricting, the only one to agree to an interview was Kathy Williams, who is now Hamilton County clerk and was known as Kathy Richardson before her retirement as a state representative in 2018.

Williams, Koch’s co-author on both the congressional and the legislative redistricting legislation, said she doesn’t recall who drew the final version of the maps. Her role as vice chair of the House Elections and Apportionment Committee was to talk to lawmakers of both parties about their districts and their needs as the maps were being developed.

“Most of the time,’’ Williams said, “they were sharing how they wanted to keep a government unit’’ — a city, town or other community of interest within their district—“together and if we couldn’t, we would try to figure what would be the best way to split an area.’’

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Redistricting is a once-a-decade process to redraw local, state and federal legislative maps to reflect shifts in population documented by the census. Drawing boundary lines to favor one political party over another —gerrymandering — is as old as the republic and has been practiced by both parties through the years. But the technology has changed radically since the days of scribbling on paper maps.

“Gerrymandering from Patrick Henry’s time through Elbridge Gerry (for whom gerrymandering is named) through the year 2000 was in its minor league,” Daley, the author, said. But by 2011, the process of drawing new maps was transformed by advances in computer technology and the quality of the data available.

“The mapping software is so sophisticated that it is suddenly possible to draw lines that go up and down a block and choose exactly which voters you want and don’t want,’’ Daley said, “and to have unbelievably precise demographic and political and consumer behavioral information at your hands as you’re drawing those lines.’’

Those tools had never existed at that level. In the 1990 cycle, most state legislatures were using big maps, parchment paper and magic markers as they drew new district boundaries, Daley explained. Though computers were used in 2000, most were slow at crunching the complex data used in redrawing district boundaries.

In 2011, Maureen Bard worked for the Indiana Legislative Services Agency, one of two staff members in the agency’s Office of Census Data. Bard was deployed to the Democrats and her counterpart, who remains on the LSA staff, to Republicans; after The Indiana Citizen asked to interview the other staff member about the 2011 redistricting, George Angelone, LSA executive director, declined the request.

Once House and Senate leaders of both parties, LSA and the governor’s office received hard copies of the census numbers, the work of analyzing the data against the geographic lines of current precincts, and political data from votes in the last election, began, Bard said.

The Republican and Democratic caucuses in both chambers got the data as well as computers, printers and office space for use in drawing their proposed maps. Bard worked with House Democrats as members of the caucus came in and out of their office to provide input and observe how the maps were being drawn.

The final maps were relatively contiguous, which some Republicans have pointed to as proof that legislative districts were not gerrymandered in 2011.

“The sad truth is, just because a district looks like it’s a pretty district that’s square and compact,’’ said Bard, who retired in 2013, “that doesn’t mean the overall plan is not a gerrymandered plan.”

When asked directly whether she believes the 2011 maps were gerrymandered, she said, “I think the numbers bear that out,” noting that the maps were drawn in such a way that Democrats have been in a super-minority position in the General Assembly for the decade since.

The state legislative and congressional maps drawn by the House and Senate Republican caucuses were the ones that were voted on in the General Assembly. The process was surprisingly swift.

Only eight days passed from when the GOP maps were unveiled to when the Indiana House approved them. Just a week after that, the Senate approved the maps and sent them to then-Gov. Daniels.

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In introducing the legislation for final passage in the House, Koch, chairman of the House Elections Committee, touted what he said was unprecedented public involvement in the process, including nine public hearings held around the state; all of the hearings occurred before the final proposed maps were made public.

Former state Sen. Vi Simpson, a Bloomington Democrat, said the actual work on the maps was done in secret.

“There was a public process,’’ she said, “and a private process that few people knew about.”

At the time, Simpson was the minority leader in the Senate and had been through two other redistricting processes, both of which were controlled in her chamber by Republicans.

“I hate to use the word better,’’ she said, “but I guess, from their perspective, they progressively got better at manipulating the use of numbers through technology.”

In the House, then-Rep. Bardon said he suspected the maps had been drawn by outsiders when he saw a proposal that shifted three veteran Democratic House members—Greg Porter, Ed DeLaney and John Day — into the same Indianapolis district, a configuration that was later changed; Republican Williams said she didn’t recall three members ever being combined into a single district.

 Given what was at stake, the debate on final passage in the House was tepid.

Only seven House Democrats spoke, with a few focused solely on changes to their own district. Neither then-Minority Leader Pat Bauer of South Bend nor anyone else from leadership spoke.

Bardon’s remarks were the most in depth and impassioned.

“What are we doing to democracy?” he pleaded. “Is this really where you want the state to go?”

He accused Republicans of hypocrisy because some leaders, including then-Speaker Bosma, had repeatedly expressed support for reforming the redistricting process to take out partisan advantage.

Bardon pointed out that his House district on the west side of Indianapolis had been redrawn to instead include communities to the east which included the home of another Democrat, Rep. Vanessa Summers. He said he chose to end his 12 years in the House rather than run against his friend.

In the Senate, the mapping legislation was given final approval with no debate.

Bardon said Democrats were not up for a fight because they had exhausted so much energy opposing GOP right-to-work legislation, which removed the requirement that people join a union and pay dues.

The Democrats walked out of the House for about six weeks in order to deny the body a quorum; members holed up in Illinois but were fined and eventually returned. They succeeded in temporarily blocking the legislation but a right-to-work bill was passed the following year and signed into law.

“There was a despondency,” Bardon said, referring to his fellow Democrats as they faced redistricting. “There was absolutely nothing they could do.”

***

Julia Vaughn, policy director Common Cause Indiana, said that in focusing on right-to-work, Democrats picked the wrong battle in 2011.

“They clearly didn’t have a long-term strategy, and it’s hurt them in a lot of ways,” Vaughn said. “Republicans did what they wanted to do in terms of redistricting, and Democrats didn’t have much if any fight in them to beat back what the Republicans were going to do.”

For example, she noted, urban voters found themselves in redrawn districts with a majority of rural voters in adjacent counties, resulting in fewer lawmakers representing some of the state’s largest cities.

“There was no analysis of how urban areas were going to be treated under the maps,” Vaughn said — such as Bloomington, which had two solid Democratic seats in District 60 held by Peggy Welch and District 61 held by Matt Pierce following the 2001 redistricting.

The new maps in 2011 shifted Welch’s district northward into Republican Morgan County; she lost in 2012 to Peggy Mayfield of Martinsville, leaving Bloomington represented by only one Democrat, Pierce. To the north, districts in Indianapolis also were redrawn to include swaths of adjacent Republican counties.

The resulting Republican advantage was dramatic. The GOP increased the number of House seats that its candidates won without opposition from 15 in 2008 to 18 in 2012. The number of unopposed races won by Democrats dropped from 17 in 2008 to 12 in 2012.

Also, Republicans increased the number of close races — those decided by fewer than six percentage points — that they won from four in 2008 to seven in 2012. Close races won by Democrats fell from five to three.

“In my opinion, they did a lot of damage to the democracy and how democracy works in Indiana,” said Simpson, the former Senate Democratic leader.

The real political contests now come in the primary, where party faithful —more conservative Republicans and more liberal Democrats — tend to vote.

“There may be a few competitive seats remaining,’’ Simpson said, “but in most seats in Indiana, the only opposition is from primary opponents.”

Bardon freely admits that Democrats attempted to skew the maps in their favor in 2001 when, holding a House majority and the governor’s office, they were in control of the process. “No doubt about that.”

But it is the degree of GOP manipulation in the 2011 redistricting that still leaves a bad taste in his mouth.

Ironically, he says, some of his Republican friends from his days in the Indiana General Assembly find themselves more threatened from the right wing of their own party than by any Democrat. 

“They are no longer considered conservative,” Bardon said, and because the primary is where the elections are really decided, “there is no general election campaign anymore.’’

Janet Williams recently retired as executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com at Franklin College. She formerly worked in corporate communications for Cummins and as a reporter and editor at The Indianapolis Star.

Bill Theobald is a veteran Washington, D.C.,-based journalist who most recently worked in the USA TODAY Washington Bureau and for the nonprofit news website The Fulcrum, which focuses on democracy reform efforts. He was a reporter and editor for The Indianapolis Star from 1990 to 2005.

This article was published by TheStatehouseFile.com through a partnership with The Indiana Citizen (indianacitizen.org), a nonpartisan, nonprofit platform dedicated to increasing the number of informed, engaged Hoosier citizens.

TheStatehouseFile.com is a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.