(The Center Square) – The newly proposed Indiana congressional map preserves the 7-2 split, with two solidly Democratic districts – one in Indianapolis and the other in the northwest corner of the state, south of Chicago – and the rest solidly Republican.
But a major configuration of the sixth congressional district, now represented by Republican Rep. Greg Pence, the brother of the former vice president, is causing consternation among rural Republican voters, who say their influence will be diminished and their voices silenced if the proposed district lines are finalized.
“All of us are just devastated as to what they’ve done to us,” Janet Kile, the Rush County GOP chairwoman said Thursday.
Kile said by including part of Marion County, which includes Indianapolis, and all of suburban and heavily populated Johnson County, rural voters in the sixth district will lose their influence.
“That’s what’s happened with these district lines is that they have crucified the small counties by putting us in with these big counties. We’ll just be absorbed and won’t even be a factor other than wanting our Republican votes or whatever,” she said.
Rush County, Kile points out, only has 3,500 to 4,500 people voting in most elections, which would be typical for a single precinct in Marion County.
The Republican county chairmen from the counties in the sixth congressional district all spoke by phone Tuesday night, and one of them, Misty Hollis, went to the Statehouse to testify at the Indiana General Assembly’s public hearing Thursday, telling legislators it appears they are trying to “squelch” the voices of Indiana’s rural voters.
As it currently stands, Indiana’s sixth congressional district takes up the southeastern corner of the state, bordering the Ohio River in the south, taking in some Cincinnati suburbs and running up along the Ohio border, taking in the city of Muncie in the northern part. It also includes the city of Richmond in the east and Columbus, where the Pence family is from.
It’s a tall district and stays in the eastern part of the state.
But on the proposed congressional map released Tuesday, it’s a wide district and loses all of the counties along the Ohio River in the south. Instead, it runs horizontally through the east-central part of the state, stretching further to the west to take in the bottom part of Marion County and all of Johnson County, right below it.
“Realigning the district to include a portion of Marion County would in all likelihood lessen the influence and the impact of the voices of those who live in eastern Indiana and they, like all Hoosiers, deserve to have their voices heard and their influence felt,” Hollis said in her testimony.
Kile says taking in part of the state capital and also Johnson County would take small rural counties like Rush “totally out of the whole picture.”
“You know, obviously, we’ll be able to speak our opinion, but it won’t have any clout or any matter as to what we think because we’re such a small, minute county,” she says.
Todd Hiday, the Republican chairman in Henry County, says mixing rural and big city was not a great idea as the two don’t have a lot of common interests.
“It dilutes Greg Pence’s ability to represent rural Indiana, where he is from, by putting those people in the district,” he told The Center Square. “I’m sure they’re good Republicans. Don’t get me wrong. But just different centers of interest. I’m more of an agriculture guy, more small town. They’re going to be more big city issues.”
He says he and the other Republican chairmen knew the district had to grow in size, as it had lost population, but thought it would stretch to take in more counties to the north or maybe rural counties to the west.
“What we weren’t prepared for was the way it grew to the west and what it captured,” he said.
Indiana’s sixth district is the most Republican congressional district in the state, with a Cook Partisan Voting Index of +22. Donald Trump won the district with 69% of the vote in 2020, compared to just 29% for President Biden. Pence has represented the district in Congress since 2018. It was represented by his brother, Mike Pence, from 2003 to 2013.
In opening comments at the public redistricting hearing Wednesday, Indiana Rep. Greg Steuerwald summarized the new 2020 census data that was just received by legislators on Aug. 12, saying it showed that 74% of the state’s population growth was in central Indiana, and that the five fastest-growing counties in the state all surround Marion.
Forty-nine counties in the state lost population between 2010 and 2020. In redrawing the maps with the new census numbers, Steuerwald said legislators found themselves "chasing population."