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The longest serving member of the Indiana Senate has been effectively forced out of his seat after the redrawing of Senate maps would require him to move or run against a colleague.
“This is a classic example of gerrymandering,” said Lake County Democratic Party Chairman James Wieser. “It’s disrespectful to a public official that’s given his heart and soul, as has his whole family, to our party for 50 years plus.”
The Senate redistricting maps, which were released Tuesday, drew Sen. Frank Mrvan, D-Hammond, into District 2, which is currently held by Sen. Lonnie Randolph, D-East Chicago.
If Mrvan wanted to run for office again, he’d have to run against Randolph or move into the new bounds of his current district, which is no longer in Hammond.
The new Senate district maps moved Hammond into District 2 while District 1 now extends from Highland south into Griffith, Schererville and into St. John. District 1 also no longer includes Munster.
By doing that, Wieser said, Republicans “eliminate one of our current senators because even if they both ran only one of them could win.”
“You take two long-serving, good public officials and by punching some keys into the computer and using the algorithms they want to use makes it extremely difficult for (Mrvan) to run again as the district he represented so well for so many years is gone,” Wieser said.
Every 10 years, following the census, states are given the opportunity to redraw electoral district lines. The political party with the majority within the state leads the effort and experts say it is common for the majority party to redraw the lines in their political party’s favor, known as gerrymandering.
Wieser said he isn’t sure of what Mrvan planned to do in the future, but the redrawing of the maps “is truly unfortunate.”
“I feel terrible about it as chairman of the party, and I know that so many of our committeemen and officeholders feel the same way,” Wieser said.
Mrvan, 88, said in a statement Tuesday that “it has been an honor to serve” as District 1 senator.
“Over the next year, I look forward to continuing my career in public service to positively impact working families and all individuals in my constituency and our entire state,” Mrvan said. “I believe in the noble calling of public service, and there remains much work to be done to support our regional economy and promote public education opportunities, public safety, and the preservation of our natural resources.”
According to his Senate Democrats biography, Mrvan retired as an officer from National City Bank officer, served 10 years on the Hammond City Council and was elected to the Senate in 1978.
In a statement, Randolph said the supermajority, which currently has 39 Republicans in the 50-member Senate, has long wanted “to get a hold in Lake County, and this squeeze-play is just another example of that.” Republicans “aren’t satisfied” with their supermajority in the state legislature “they want absolute power,” Randolph said.
“The intent is clearly to squeeze us out and stamp out the voices in those communities. These continued efforts to secure power show just how greedy the supermajority has become,” Randolph said. “I’m upset and disappointed by this move, but I’m not surprised. The supermajority continues to prove that what they care about most is political gain and power not Indiana or the best interests of Hoosiers.”
The new District 1 does not keep communities of interest together because Munster is now with Whiting, North Hammond and East Chicago in District 2, Wieser said. Highland and Griffith are in the new District 1, and “it would make all the sense in the world” that Munster “as a fellow Ridge community would be there as well,” Wieser said.
Republicans choose to redraw the maps this way, Wieser said, was so that Rep. Mike Andrade, D-Munster, cannot run for the District 1 Senate seat. Andrade was considering a Senate run if it made political sense, but the new maps make that possibility slim, Wieser said.
“They wanted to make sure that they accomplished their gerrymandering purpose, and their political purpose, so they put Highland, Griffith, Schererville, part of Merrillville and Dyer and St. John into a district,” Wieser said.
Another reason District 1 was redrawn that way, Wieser said, is because he believes Republicans “have a hand-picked candidate they want to run.”
“They wanted to make sure that they could prevent a Democrat from running in the First District and they wanted to make sure that they could create a district for the person they want. That’s what it boils down to. That’s the politics of it,” Wieser said.
Lake County Republican Party Chairman Dan Dernulc said Tuesday he hadn’t yet seen the Senate redistricting maps, but that he is considering a run for the new District 1 seat. Dernulc, who is also a Lake County Council member from Highland, said he hadn’t yet made the decision and that he plans to discuss it with his wife and colleagues.
“If I run for anything, it’ll be a hard decision,” Dernulc said. “I’ve made it no secret … if the maps change it would be something I’m interested in.”
For over 20 years, the Senate District 1 and District 2 maps have “been by and large relatively the same,” Wieser said. But Republicans have “totally, completely scrambled that,” Wieser said, which they likely will argue was to address the population shift in the area.
“Well, that population shift could easily have been addressed without such a drastic change in those two districts,” Wieser said. “They did it to accomplish their political purpose which is to make sure that one potential candidate can’t run on the Democratic side and their guy can run.”
Wieser said the new Senate map shows the need for an independent commission or bipartisan approach is needed when redistricting is done.
“We have a system that rewards the party in the majority to draw district maps it becomes by definition gerrymandering because they’re not going to take into account the equities of what ought to be taken into account if there was an independent commission or bipartisan commission,” Wieser said.
The impact of the new District 1 and District 2 maps, Wieser said, is that Munster won’t have the same level of influence anymore. But, Wieser said, District 1 will be competitive because there are “several excellent potential candidates in the new district they created.”
“It’s the motivation that upsets me, and what is wrong with the way we do redistricting in this state and in many states in this country. We should have a commission that doesn’t take personalities into it, that doesn’t take the hard-core politics into it, that does it on a fair and equitable basis,” Wieser said.