Governor Mike Pence this weekend signed a controversial piece of legislation that eliminates all at-large seats on the Indianapolis Marion County City-County Council.
Democrats hold all four at-large seats on the Indianapolis City-County Council giving Democrats a 15 to 14 majority. Under a new law the governor signed Saturday, those at-large seats will be eliminated at the end of their terms. If Republicans retain their seats, they will then hold the majority.
Playing politics with Indianapolis seats is not new. Indianapolis-based political analyst Brian Vargus says the combined city-county council was set up to give more weight to the then-Republican county.
Since then, he says, demographics have changed, shifting the balance of power.
“This is a blatant power grab by the Republican Party. It may well work. They may get the majority back. Whether they can keep the mayor’s seat depends on the candidates the Democrats develop and who they run,” he says. “Fundamentally what it does is disenfranchises those people who for example might be of one party but live in a heavily gerrymandered district for the other party.”
The bill’s author Senator Mike Young (R-Indianapolis) says both Democrats and Republicans have proposed eliminating the at-large seats in the past and he says this is not about whose party holds the majority.
“I just don’t know who’s going to win the next election or by what margin on the council at large,” he says. “So it’s better to do it today and not harm anybody and let the voters vote how they choose in the next election, so it can’t be a power play because there’s no one that knows what the election results are going to be.”
In a statement, Governor Mike Pence says he knows the law is divisive, but he signed the legislation because it gives the mayor more authority over the budget—a provision the governor says will encourage economic development.
Joel Miller, Marion County Democrats Chairman, says the governor’s move was expected.
“I’m not surprised that Governor Pence today rubber stamped Mayor Ballard’s power grab bill,” Miller said in a statement. “Governor Pence spent a career in Washington as a shill for tea party Republicans.”
The law eliminates at-large seats from all class one cities, but Indianapolis is the only city in Indiana large enough to fall under that classification.