Friday, October 30, 2009

Rokita Part I: "Mapmaker, Mapmaker, Make Me a Map!"

This is the first of a three-part analysis on Republican Secretary of State and gubernatorial hopeful Todd Rokita's recent activities.

Say you’re a term-limited Hoosier Republican, you’re seeking higher office, and you’re worried about the presumptive front-runner for the office you seek getting a jump on you. Put another way, say you’re Todd Rokita. What do you do?

How about making self-interested politicians your whipping boy and connecting with the faithful via a subconscious shout out to the Supreme Being?

A few weeks ago, Rokita launched Rethinking Redistricting and embarked on a statewide tour to convince Hoosiers that it’s bad public policy to let legislators create their own district boundaries.

In the abstract, nobody would have ever counseled Rokita to dive into the alligator den by alienating lawmakers, particularly fellow Republicans, House Minority Leader Brian Bosma and Senate President Pro Temp David Long. After all, if the Republicans take back the House of Representatives, Bo-Lo will be wielding the big cutlery on the atlas.

And, sure enough, both men pounced on Rokita for being a nosenheimer. In a saucy putdown, Long stated, "I don't think it's (Rokita's) business." Ooooo, snap, girlfriend!

Given his options for elevating the profile of his largely ministerial office, though, Rokita's play is not as politically ill-advised as one might think. If Rokita wasn't likely to earn the support of Bosma or Long for Governor (he wasn't), he loses nothing. But he has garnered massive free media, he's becoming the darling of every civic-minded editorial board and Common Cause chapter in the state, and he has a ready-made Speakers' Bureau-style roadshow that will help him connect with voters on an issue on which nobody except politicians can disagree, and not even all of them will.

Governor Daniels supports Rokita's effort (probably to the consternation of Lieutenant Governor Becky Skillman). It was as if the Governor said, "Hey there, Hoosiers, Todd and I are too clean to stay in the political muck with these legislators. Yo, Todd, we're Audi 5000."

I understand why the Guv jumped on board after observing Rokita's presentation recently at the Muslim Alliance of Indiana (MAI)'s annual conference. It piqued my interest, and it was potently populist. It started with a quirky video of average Hoosiers trying to identify what is depicted in outlines of the sprawling, contorted legislative districts we currently use.

Rokita then beat the bejesus out of "them," the ominous and elusive phrase politicians use to conjure up images of overweight, bald, cigar-smoking other politicians carting around briefcases full of lobbyist cash. Sure, there were interesting policy arguments about how constituent confusion would lessen if we had more districts mimicking county and/or township boundaries and how neighborhoods right now are split down the middle of the street. But the soundbite is what caught my attention: "We should pick our representatives; they shouldn't pick us." Nice.

According to Rokita, political considerations, such as review of the addresses of sitting legislators or the voting history of geographic areas to determine whether to include them in a district would be forbidden.

Unfortunately, the cynic in me won't release the notion that Rokita and Daniels know a random draw in a state with a larger baseline Republican vote is going to favor Republicans at least six times out of ten. In other words, the Rokita concept might throw these Republican leaders out, but it's less likely to throw out Republican leadership.

This is, of course, beautiful for Rokita because the best thing that could happen to Rethinking Redistricting is the media beating Democrat House Speaker Pat Bauer about his opposition because it knows he can't say D's are more likely to lose the House in a straight up fight.

My only concern about this project has been the laughable defense of the cost. Rokita's chief of staff pointed out that Rokita didn't use "new money," by which he meant to say that the SoS did not spend all of his allocation from the General Assembly, but instead of sending it all back to the state, took out a $110,000 chunk for this project.

The key with this "new money" accounting concept then is to ensure your office gets a sizeable over-appropriation annually. This way whatever you spend in excess of what you expected to not spend doesn't count. Got it?

Of course, while that price tag seems steep for some maps, a website, some brochures, and a video, the cost is probably equal to the paperclip budget for the BMV, and it will be worth every dime to see the masses get riled up about something they won't be able to change while legislators sweat over how to not support it while looking like they are.

Stay tuned for Rokita, Part II: "So sayeth the Loe-ord!"


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