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As a member of the Senate Elections Committee, I participated in hearings across the state and listened to Hoosiers about why they deeply care about a fair redistricting process. Their message was very clear – an external citizens redistricting commission should draw the maps in a fair and transparent process. Since the Legislature did not pass my Senate Bill 283 last session to create such a commission, the public expects legislators to keep communities of interest together and not favor either party or incumbents when they draw district maps.
The most profound argument that was made was about the effects of Gerrymandering, which leads to a deterioration of the institutions of our democracy, a rigged system of elections by which the outcomes of the next ten year’s elections are already pre-determined, a rise of extreme partisan politicians who will push for cultural wars and a weakened business climate that will threaten Indiana’s businesses from being able to compete both on the domestic and global stages. Throughout the hearings, Millennials and Gen Z workers and students raised red flags and shared a stern message for Indiana and the corporate community: “be more socially responsible and show your workforce that you care by standing up in support of an inclusive, welcoming, fair and equitable Indiana. Otherwise, we are moving out.”
In order to meet the demands of our workforce, our Legislature needs to be better aligned with the business community’s recent efforts regarding diversity, equity and inclusion. Last month, some of our state’s largest businesses and the Indiana Chamber of Commerce signed a letter supporting the Equality Act and encouraging Indiana’s Congressional Delegation to support it. The Legislature should be a partner with the business community in these kinds of efforts, instead of passing legislation that does the opposite–but that will only happen when legislative districts are drawn to accurately represent the rich diversity of our state.
Indiana’s inclusive economic growth directly correlates to the state’s ability to increase educational attainment, address the brain drain issue, invest in childcare and early education, offer living wages, provide affordable housing and healthcare and create the economic environment necessary to attract top jobs and talent to compete in the 21st century economy. The creation of safe, partisan legislative and congressional districts is nothing less than a guarantee that Indiana’s future will be held hostage to an internal civil war between mainstream conservative Republicans and the far right wing. Given the supermajority’s insistence on blocking redistricting reform, the Legislature will continue to do what it normally does: drag its feet on making progress on the much-needed inclusive economic growth agenda.
Indiana has plenty of advantages when attracting new businesses. However, recent studies show that Indiana underinvests in workforce development, K-12 education, healthcare and the environment. If we are to address these issues successfully, we need fair districts that elect more moderate legislators focused on problem solving and working together to address chronic challenges facing Indiana. Unfortunately, the last redistricting process in 2011 has resulted in a decade of one party rule. Where has that lead Indiana? According to a report from the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership (CICP), the median annual earning for Hoosier families has only grown at half the national average. Since 2000, Indiana’s real median wage growth ranked 46th in the country and behind neighboring Midwestern states. Since 2010, about 30% of Indiana’s population lives below the “self-sufficiency standard” and “less educated workers in the state and racial and ethnic minorities are especially overrepresented” in this group.
Spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the backend of the workforce development system has not delivered the desired economic outcomes. This session, the General Assembly used federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan to make much needed investments in K-12 education that only just now brought us back to 2012 student funding levels when factoring inflation. This investment cannot be a one-time effort. We must sustain investments in both K-12 and higher education in order for Indiana to produce an educated and well trained workforce that is desperately needed to fill the tens of thousands of open jobs. What’s the return on investment for tax payers if we attract jobs that we can’t fill? The CICP report highlights the importance of higher education, specifically in advanced industries. Average wages for Hoosiers with a post-secondary degree, certification or training are significantly higher than those with a high school degree.
My call to action for the business community is to engage directly on the issue of redistricting to move Indiana into a more politically balanced General Assembly. Unfair maps will shift Indiana to a more extreme and ideological state that will harm Indiana’s investments in education, workforce and business climate. As one business leader once told me: “social justice is good for business.” I hope that you join Hoosiers from across the state in demanding fair maps. Otherwise, Indiana is at risk of falling further behind the nation and the globe.