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Jefferson, Switzerland heading back to Indiana's 6th District
  • Updated

After a decade away from being in Indiana’s 9th Congressional District, Jefferson and Switzerland counties are headed back there after redistricting earlier this year by the Indiana General Assembly.

Currently Jefferson and Switzerland counties are a part of the 6th Congressional District represented by Republican Greg Pence, but southeastern Indiana is shifting to the 9th Congressional District currently represented by Republican incumbent Trey Hollingsworth.

Every 10 years, following the US Census count, Congressional districts are redrawn throughout the nation to balance population. For Congressional districts, the work begins with reapportionment in which the distribution of representation in states can change dependent on fluctuating populations. Indiana’s current population was high enough to keep the state’s nine Congressional districts that have been in place since 2002.

Jefferson and Switzerland counties had been in the 9th Congressional District since 1933, following the election of Eugene B. Crowe in the 1932 general election, until 10 years and the shift to the 6th District.

For 34 of those years the district was represented by Lee Hamilton, whose name became synonymous with the district. Hamilton’s last campaign was in 1998, after which he retired, and over the next dozen years the 9th District was represented by Baron Hill, Mike Sodrel and Todd Young. But after the 2010 census, redistricting took Jefferson and Switzerland counties out the 9th Congressional District, to become a part of the 6th Congressional District, along with other neighboring counties that also had been in the 9th District for many years.

After a decade away, Jefferson County and Switzerland counties are now back in the 9th Congressional District along with Jennings, Ripley and Ohio counties, who were all previously in the 6th District.

“We are back in the ninth district where we have always belonged,” said former Democrat County Commissioner Julie Berry, noting it joins southeastern Indiana counties along the Ohio River Valley together where “there’s a connection of common interests.”

Mike Jones, chairman of the Switzerland County Democratic Party and vice chairman of Indiana’s 6th District Democrats, agreed saying he feels “southeastern Indiana is more connected to the 9th district than the 6th” which extends north to Delaware County, northeast of Indianapolis.

“I do think it’s better that all the counties (in southeastern Indiana) along the river are in the same district,” Jones said, adding Jefferson County has more in common with Clark County than it does the 6th District and areas like Hancock and Delaware counties that are connected more to Indianapolis than the Ohio Valley.

Jones, who served as 9th District Democratic chairman for 23 years — before Switzerland County moved into the 6th District — wonders “why we were put into the 6th district anyway. He note the decision was “all political,” which he said isn’t good for the people. “Counties aren’t moved around for better representation, but for what’s the best political fit for the party in power.”

However, Joshua Daniel Webb, vice chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, said the current 6th Congressional District has provided more parity for Jefferson County in terms of economics and infrastructure with other communities such as Greensburg, Shelbyville and Richmond. In the 9th District, he said, “If you look at New Albany, Jeffersonville, Clarksville, Floyds Knobs and even Sellersburg, there’s a lot of power that’s concentrated there” due to the growth that’s come in those Indiana communities from being across the Ohio River from Louisville.

Webb felt it was important to represent Jefferson County in the new 9th District, and earlier this month was elected treasurer of the 9th District Republicans with Jamey Noel of Clark County being named the district chair, Amanda Lowery of Jackson County as vice chairman and Scott Fluhr of Harrison County secretary.

There is likely to be some confusion in 2022 as voters in Jefferson and Switzerland counties go to the polls to vote between Hollingsworth and his opponent for 9th District Congress while still being represented by the 6th District Congressman.

“Even though we have changed Congressional districts, Greg Pence is still our Congressman until next year, Webb said. “Until we have a swearing in of a new Congressman for the 9th District, Greg Pence is still our representative in Congress.

“You’ll have to vote for somebody else but the old guy still gets the phone call,” he noted.

For local voters unfamiliar with Hollingsworth, he is serving his third term as 9th District Congressman after first being elected in 2016. A Republican from Jeffersonville, Hollingsworth is a small business owner who partnered in 2008 to start an aluminum remanufacturing operation.

In addition to Jefferson and Switzerland counties, the new 9th District will include Brown, Clark, Dearborn, Decatur, Floyd, Franklin, Harrison, Jackson, Jennings, Lawrence, Monroe, Ohio, Ripley, Scott and Washington counties, along with southern Bartholomew County.

“Don’t get too used to it because in 10 years you don’t know where we will be,” Jones cautioned, noting that “hyper partisanship” has been factor in a lot of movement within districts in recent years and he doesn’t see that changing because the courts have shown no interest in getting involved in creating non-partisan redistricting.

“I read that out of the 435 US House districts that only 20 of them are competitive,” Jones said. “Is that good for government? I don’t think so. I don’t think one party rule is good regardless of what party it is. I think we have a healthier electorate when we have competitive races.”

The local high school basketball season tipped off in earnest with the annual girls-boys Turkey Shootout doubleheader between Madison and Southwestern in Hanover. And unlike a year ago when the Shootout was split into two nights with severe crowd limitations, the annual rivarly was played before a packed house — like the Southwestern student section here — at King Gym Wednesday with crowd sizes not limited by the COVID-19 pandemic. For full coverage see Sports, Page B1.

Fans are back

Historic Board to allow retaining wall by 2-2 vote
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A local business has been granted a certificate of appropriateness to install a poured concrete retaining wall to stabilize soil disturbed during recent excavation and tree removal at the corner of Mill and West First streets in downtown Madison,

The property, a former coal yard turned neighborhood dumping ground for decades, was purchased in October by TT and C Property Management LLC — owners of nearby Lanthier Winery & Distillery — with hopes of developing the property as a warehouse.

That idea failed to gain approval from the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals so owners Chris Lanthier and Tami Hagemier excavated the site to remove old construction and other debris, bushes and trees with plans to possibly develop the area for parking and/or an extension of their on-site gardens.

However, the deeper hole created by excavation, clearing and tree removal has threatened the soil stability in the area and provided a potentially hazardous dropoff now that trees no longer create a buffer for traffic using Mill and First streets. It was that potential for danger that swayed some members of the city’s Historic District Review Board to accept a poured concrete wall when historic district requirements preferred wall of stacked rock construction that are more historic in appearance.

Hagemier noted the lot has needed clearing for some time because it had served as a dumping ground for debris and a hangout for homeless. Some of the bigger trees were damaged and dying and many of the others were less preferably varieties and not much better. She said the only thing separating the roughly piled field of debris and potholes from the public was a short berm on the north side and a few trees but erosion was becoming another issue.

Madison Building Inspector Scott Gross said the size of the hole and the potential for erosion were what concerned him most about the property.

“My only issue is the erosion on the north and west sides,” Gross said, noting the concrete wall could help stabilize that. “It will need a fence at a later date. We have a drop off there now and it will need to be addressed.”

Hagemier said the plan is to construct a fence on top of the concrete wall to extend up and provide a barrier but that there are several issues that must be dealt with from the drop off to drainage since the area has long been a draining point for storm water runoff in the neighborhood. Without proper drainage all that water, and possibly more, will continued to gush into the area possibly make it unsuitable for parking or a garden and leading to more erosion.

“This is our first step,” she said of the wall. “There is a liability issue here that we have a vested interest in.”

Board member Jerry Wade questioned why a better plan had not been developed prior to excavating the area.

Hagemier said the hole “has always been there” and it was filled with “nasty stuff and dangerous debris” that needed removal and the rough condition of the property “didn’t stop the homeless from setting up camp.”

She also said the project started out as an effort to remove that debris but after getting started there was no end in sight. “If we continued to move all the debris we’d be well into the city property,” she said. “I want to make it safe but I don’t want to spend a million dollars.”

Board members Mike Pittman and Owen McCall both noted that they have issue with not just the concrete wall but whether Lanthier plans for the site are even covered by the historic district ordinance.

“Poured concrete is not historic,” Pittman said, adding he thinks the owners should consider a wall built with stacked stone.

“What you are trying to do is not even covered in these guidelines,” McCall added.

Pittman actually asked if Hagemier would accept the board voting to table the application to provide the owners more time to better develop their plan and come up with alternatives that are more consistent with the historic district.

She said with the arrival of colder weather, there may only be so many days remaining that are suitable to pour concrete and without a wall there would be no way to stabilize and halt erosion or progress toward providing a suitable wall for safety. In the end she asked the board to vote on the issue.

With only four HDRB members in attendance at Monday’s meeting — Jerome Vernon, Ken McWilliams and Thomas Stark were all absent — all four members in attendance would have had to vote against the application in order to block the request. McCall and Board Chairman Josh Wilber voted in favor of the proposal with Wade and Pittman opposing. The 2-2 tied vote was more than enough for the application to be granted.

Redistricting could make state races confusing
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The 2022 election year might be a bit confusing for voters in southeastern Indiana after redistricting has changed State Senate and Representatives representation throughout the State of Indiana.

Following the US Census count, the Indiana General Assembly has redistricted the state’s 50 State Senate districts and 100 House of Representatives districts.

Jefferson County and Switzerland County, which had been voting in the 45th Senate District, currently represented by Republican Chris Garten of Charlestown, will now be voting in the 43rd Senate District, currently represented by Republican Chip Perfect of Lawrenceburg.

For the State House of Representatives, the 67th District, currently represented by Republican Randy Frye, will take over a larger portion of Jefferson County by including seven of the county’s 10 townships. Meanwhile, the 66th District, currently represented by Republican Zach Payne, will only have Saluda and Hanover townships in Jefferson County after previously representing more of the county (including the city of Madison). Also, the 68th District, currently represented by Republican Randy Lyness, will include Milton Township in Jefferson County along with all of Switzerland County, which is currently all in Frye’s 67th District.

Although voters will face new decisions in the 2022 election, the current legislative representation will remain in place until after next year’s general election and the new officers are sworn after the current terms expired.

Perfect is president and chief executive officer of Perfect North Slopes, an alpine skiing resort in Dearborn County. He was first elected to the State Senate in 2014, taking over for the retiring Johnny Nugent, who had served the 43rd District since 1978.

Perfect said he is looking forward to representing Jefferson County after the 2022 general election. “From the beautiful parks and recognized schools and colleges, to historic buildings and local museums, Jefferson County has everything you could want in a community,” Perfect said. “Jefferson County will make a great addition to the new district, and it will help to keep southeast Indiana communities of interest together.”

Joshua Daniel Webb, vice chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party, characterized Perfect as “being in the same mold” as Garten and thinks Perfect could provide strong representation for the county.

Frye said he is “elated” to be representing more of Jefferson County. Currently, Frye’s 67th District includes Milton, Monroe and Shelby townships, and two precincts in eastern Madison Township. “I have always represented the east part to the city, but not the city proper,” but now his district will include Madison, currently represented by Payne whose 66th District also been reconfigured in Clark and Scott counties.

“Madison is one of the most beautiful places in the entire state. I love being there. It’s such a beautiful town and they always do a great job with festivals,” said Frye, noting that even though Madison has not been a part of his district in the past “I have always been there a lot.”

Frye, a Republican from Greensburg, has represented the 67th District since his first election in 2010. Frye’s new district now also includes more of Jennings County, encompassing all but one township including North Vernon. “I will have less rural coverage,” said Frye, noting he will be losing Switzerland and Ohio counties.

Although the district lines are changing, Frye said he is providing representation and doesn’t always look at the boundaries; that’s it’s all about what’s best for southeastern Indiana. He said he was actively involved in getting a Baby Safe Haven Box in Madison that allows a mother in crisis to safely, securely and anonymously surrender a baby if she is unable to care for the newborn. He said he did that in spite of fact the box was located in downtown Madison that wasn’t part of his district at the time.

While Frye’s representation for Switzerland County will end after the 2022 election, he said he plans to continue to be actively involved in the Highway 101 project that will extend that highway through Dearborn, Ohio and Switzerland counties for a direct connection to Interstate 71 and Interstate 75.

Lyness, a Republican from West Harrison, announced last week his plans to run for re-election in his reconfigured district that will include all of Dearborn, Ohio and Switzerland counties along with Milton Township in Jefferson County. “In the coming weeks and months, I look forward to having ongoing conversations with my constituents about how we can work together to improve the communities in southeast Indiana,” Lyness said in announcing his bid for reelection.

Mike Jones, chairman of the Switzerland County Democratic Party, expressed confusion over his county’s change to Lyness in the 68th District. “We go from having Randy Frye and now we’re in a completely new district with a representative that has no connection to Switzerland County.”

Jim Lucas, who currently represents Lancaster, Republican and Smyrna townships in Jefferson County as part of the 69th District, won’t represent any of the county after the 2022 general election but instead the 69th District will include Jackson and Washington counties, and part of Scott County.

Jefferson County has had representation in the House of Representatives over the years, most recently with Markt Lance Lytle from 1992-2004, but the last State Senator from Jefferson County was Joseph Marshall Cravens, a Democrat first elected in 1918 and serving through 1930 who was the grandson of James F.D. Lanier.

However, Julie Berry, a former Jefferson County Commissioner, made an attempt to put a Jefferson County resident in the State Senate when she lost to Jim Smith in the District 45 race in 2014.

“It’s crazy Jefferson County hasn’t had a State Senator since 1930. That’s nearly 100 years.” Berry said. “I was close in 2014, but close doesn’t win elections.”

Republicans currently hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Indiana General Assembly — a 39-11 advantage in the Senate and 71-29 in the House.

Jones, who also currently serves as vice chair of the 6th District Democrats, said he believes redistricting is designed to favor incumbents, regardless of party, noting both Republicans and Democrats will do the same when they are in power.

“What happens is these districts are gerrymandered that there are hardly any competitive districts any more” and it makes people feel their vote doesn’t really count, Jones said. “For the incumbents their only concern to stay in office is to avoid a primary.”

Jones noted he used to oppose term limits but has now changed his mind because of the redistricting process. “I think term limits are probably good for all local and state races,” he said. “Whatever party is in control, they want to keep the control,” and that often involves “how do we create districts that maintain that majority.”

But not even all Republicans were pleased with the way the redistricting turned out this time. Ron Grooms, a Republican from Jeffersonville, resigned in October as State Senator from the 46th District with another year left in his term after redistricting eliminated his district that included Jeffersonville and New Albany by splitting the two cities between other Republican-controlled districts with the 46th Senate District moving into Marion County. Grooms was the only Republican to join 11 State Senate Democrats in voting against the redistricting plan.

Webb acknowledged that there are Republicans who weren’t all that pleased with the shuffling. “Nobody locally is really happy,” adding that also included Republicans in the region. “It just didn’t shake out the way anybody cared for it to shake out.”

Although redistricting was voted for by the Republican majority, Webb said some changes didn’t make sense. “It is what it is, and they all voted for it, for the most part, that’s kind of how it came out,” Webb said. “We’re going to make the best of it.”

In addition to the legislature changes, there will also be redistricting locally. The Commissioner and County Council districts must be redrawn by Dec. 31. Also, cities and town must redistrict council districts, but because city and town elections won’t occur next until 2023, the deadline to redraw those is Nov. 8, 2022.

Jones also talked about how politics in Indiana has transitioned in recent years. He noted that Marion County and Indianapolis, once one of the most Republican metropolitan areas in the nation, has now gone solidly Democrat whereas Switzerland County, strongly Democrat for many years, has gone Republican in recent years. “All rural America has gone Republican,” said Jones, adding there seems to be much more straight party voting. He said Tip O’Neill, the late former Speaker of the House, had a saying that “all politics is local, but I think that with social media and 24/7 news that all politics has now become national. I think the national issues drive the local now instead vice versa,” he said. “Everybody has their own news programs to watch now.”

Jones remembers decades ago when Walter Cronkite, anchor for CBS Evening News from 1962-1981 was cited as “the most trusted man in America” after being so named in an opinion poll. “You watched the news, and that was the news. You didn’t have your own flavor of the news. Is there a non-partisan national news out there today?” Jones said. “Now national media people are part the partisan process, aren’t they?”

Indiana exemptions to COVID vaccinations stalls
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Indiana’s public health emergency was extended Wednesday for another month by Gov. Eric Holcomb after a legislative proposal stalled that would have forced businesses to grant exemptions to COVID-19 vaccination requirements without any questions.

Meanwhile, Switzerland County’s infection metric move into “Orange” for moderate to high spread, after the county recently spent two weeks in the “Yellow” for moderate spread. Data released Wednesday by the Indiana Department of Health, showed Switzerland County’s positivity rate was 14.9% with seven new positive cases of COVID-19 increasing its overall total to 1,437.

Jefferson County also remains in “Orange” with a jump of 38 cases for an overall total of 5,617. The county’s positivity rate is now 12.2%. Meanwhile, Trimble and Carroll counties in Kentucky continue to both have incidence rates in the “Red” for high spread. Trimble has 13 new positive cases for an overall total of 1,319 with a 10.48% positivity rate. Carroll has 27 new positive cases for an overall total of 2,042 with a 15.67% positivity rate.

The COVID-19 death toll remains the same in all four local counties with Jefferson at 102, Carroll 30, Trimble 21 and Switzerland 12.

Republican House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray said in statements Wednesday that they now plan to address concerns about vaccine mandates and the necessary Indiana law changes needed to end the state emergency when lawmakers reconvene for the regular legislative session in January.

There had been an effort by the Republican-dominated Indiana General Assembly to vote on a fast-track bill in special session next week, but leaders called off that plan following a joint meeting between committees in the House and Senate Tuesday that included nearly seven hours of heated public testimony after which lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on the bill.

Bray noted that the logistics of moving legislation to the floor during a time when the General Assembly is not typically in session and the “need for the public and members of the General Assembly to fully vet the legislation” necessitated holding the bill for further consideration until legislators meet again on Jan. 4.

Huston has said he believes “we need to move forward” after so much time under the public health emergency, which was set to expire Dec. 1.

“To be clear, House Republicans remain resolved to take quick action this session to help end the state of emergency and protect Hoosiers against the federal government’s unprecedented overreach,” Huston said in a statement Wednesday. “While most Indiana companies are acting in good faith, it’s unacceptable that some employers are blatantly disregarding well-established vaccine exemptions, and we’ll address these issues through legislation.”

Lawmakers heard contentious testimony Tuesday from employees with medical or religious objections who maintained they’re wrongly being asked to choose between complying with a COVID-19 vaccine mandate and losing their jobs. Employer testimony included concerns over who would be responsible for COVID testing for workers, and whether changes to state law would conflict with federal regulations.

Numerous Indiana medical and business groups have also argued that the proposal wrongly sends a message that the coronavirus pandemic is over at a time when Indiana’s infections and hospitalizations are rising again.

The hearing followed a request from Holcomb last week for lawmakers to approve three administrative actions that he said would allow him to end the statewide COVID-19 public health emergency order that’s been in place since March 2020, even amid a recent rise in COVID cases and hospitalizations in Indiana and other Midwestern states.

On Wednesday, the Indiana Department of Health reported 4,070 new positive COVID cases throughout the state, bringing the state’s overall total to 1,084,488. There were also 17 newly reported deaths increasing the state’s overall death toll to 16,805. The Delta variant is now accounting for 95.6% of Indiana’s COVID cases.

Statewide hospitalizations due to COVID-19 continued to rise from 1,764 on Monday to 1,842 on Tuesday, the highest number since Oct. 5. They are up 42.7% since the beginning of the month and COVID patients occupy 19.6% of Indiana’s intensive care unit beds.

Holcomb’s proposal also included provisions that would give workers broad exemptions from employer vaccine mandates amid a national conservative pushback against President Joe Biden’s mandates.

“Last week I made clear what would be necessary to responsibly allow the state public health emergency to expire,” Holcomb said in a statement Wednesday. “I will continue to work closely with Speaker Huston and Senator Bray as we move into next legislative session.”

Holcomb has criticized Biden’s vaccine requirements for businesses, saying he supports the rights of businesses to make their own decisions. The governor didn’t directly comment Tuesday on whether he had discussed the vaccine requirement limits in the bill before legislative leaders released the draft and said he wanted time to talk with them about it.

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor said in a statement Wednesday he was “glad” that the Republican caucus halted the bill, noting that the issue “should be discussed and considered before our full Legislature … instead of unnecessarily being pushed through.”

“We are legislators, not doctors, and we should not be legislating medicine,” Taylor said. “This delay will allow us the necessary time to hear from the full medical community about the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine and how it is saving lives.”

In Kentucky on Wednesday, there were 10,795 new positive cases of COVID-19 to take the state’s overall total to 777,858. Also, the Kentucky Department of Public Health reported 35 new deaths to bring the state’s overall total to 10,795.