Commentary: Hate Crimes Another Casualty Of Gerrymandering

first_imgCommentary: Hate Crimes Another Casualty Of GerrymanderingJanuary 4, 2019  By John INDIANAPOLIS – The decision by the Indiana Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray to bottle up hate crimes legislation in a caucus is instructive in so many ways.John Krull, publisher, TheStatehouseFile.comIt’s secretive.It’s high-handed.It’s an affront to principles of good and open government.And it’s just wrong.But none of that has stopped Bray, R-Martinsville, from doing it.The question is why.And the answer is – because he can.Gerrymandering allows him to get away with it.The surgical precision with which Republicans have drawn the legislative maps in Indiana produces several results, none of them good.One is that it warps election results and thus often thwarts the will of the people.Indiana is a solidly conservative, Republican state. But it is not an 80 percent Republican state, as the makeup of Bray’s Senate would suggest. It is not even a 67 percent Republican state, as the representation in the Indiana House of Representatives suggests.The best guess is that Indiana is a 55 percent to 58 percent Republican state. It’s only a guess because there are legislative districts in which candidates run unopposed – another unfortunate consequence of gerrymandering – and this distorts the numbers.That they come from districts cherry-picked for their comfort and convenience allows legislators, year after year after year, to ignore broad public mandates in favor of, for example, sensible gun laws or better school funding. Gerrymandering builds a firewall against public pressure for lawmakers and at the same time makes them more susceptible to the blandishments, enticements and pressures offered and exerted by special interests.This, in turn, leads to the final and frustrating consequence of gerrymandering.It creates a political culture in which amazing levels of arrogance can take root and flower.Crafting hate-crimes legislation that addresses the problem of the increasing incidence of offenses motivated by bias without violating constitutional protections of freedom of conscience and speech will require effort. This likely will anger the most committed activists on both sides of the question, but there are plausible arguments to be made and reasonable concerns to be advanced both for and against hate-crimes laws.For that reason, it is exactly the sort of public issue for full and open discussion.But that’s exactly what Bray’s decision to keep the debate that matters locked behind closed caucus doors will deny us.In doing so, Bray – an official elected, in theory, to serve the public – has decided to have other public officials determine what is in the public’s interest away from the public’s eyes and ears.And, he’s doing it, again, because he can.Gerrymandering allows him to get away with it.There have been attempts in recent years to take the practice of drawing their own maps and thus selecting their own voters out of the hands of the state’s lawmakers. Because, though, such a reform must be approved by the legislators themselves, such efforts inevitably die.In fact, all too often, they don’t even receive a vote in the legislative committee to which they have been assigned.A committee chair from – you guessed it – a safely gerrymandered district just slips the redistricting reform bill into his pocket and offers a sly smile of contempt to the citizens’ howls of outrage.Because he can.Gerrymandering allows him to get away with it.Our state has some genuine and significant challenges to meet. Crafting an effective and sensible hate-crimes law is only one of them, but, in this case, it’s symptomatic. So long as we have a political system and culture in place that rewards legislators for ignoring public concerns rather than addressing them, we’re not likely to make the progress we should.As Rodric Bray’s decision to bottle up hate-crimes bills in caucus demonstrates, our lawmakers will continue to do public business in secret and act as if we work for them rather than the other way around without thinking twice about it.Because they can.Gerrymandering allows them to get away with it.FOOTNOTE: John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.Print Friendly, PDF & EmailFacebookTwitterCopy LinkEmailSharelast_img

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