INDIANAPOLIS — Proposed redistricting maps released by Indiana Republicans keep northeast Indiana’s state representative districts similar to the last decade, with a few notable shifts for reps from Noble and DeKalb counties.
Chief among those change is that District 82 Rep. Dave Abbott, R-Rome City, is shifting more south and west than before, while District 52 Rep. Ben Smaltz, R-Auburn, has moved more to the north as well as entering Noble County.
Northern District 51 Rep. Denny Zent, R-Angola, saw the smallest change in his territory, picking up an extra township in LaGrange County but losing two townships in Steuben County.
“We got the best of all possible worlds in this,” Zent said. “In a perfect world for me I would have had all of Steuben and all of LaGrange but there’s just too many people.”
State legislators are in the midst of redrawing districts across the state following population returns from the 2020 census. State lawmakers are tasked with redrawing lines every decade following the census, which determines which constituents state representatives, state senators and U.S. congressmen serve.
Indiana Republicans hold supermajorities in both House and Senate in Indianapolis, meaning the GOP has total control over the outcome of the process.
House Republicans released proposed district maps for the U.S. House and Indiana House on Sept. 14. Maps for Indiana Senate districts have not yet been made public.
Across Indiana, like most of the nation, population has continued shifting toward urban and suburban areas, meaning many of the more pronounced changes are occurring around metros.
That was the case in northeast Indiana, as the four-county area will continue having three representatives, although their boundaries have shifted.
Abbott has seen the most pronounced change in his district boundaries from the 2011 map to the new 2021 map.
While previously Abbott represented the entirety of Noble County as well as small pieces of LaGrange, Kosciusko, Whitley and Allen counties, his district has now shifted much more south and west.
Abbott’s district number, if the current maps are approved, will also change from 82 to 18.
One of the notable changes is that Abbott would no longer represent Wayne and Allen townships in Noble County, which include Kendallville and Avilla. Those two townships have moved to Smaltz’s territory.
“It’s sad to see that I don’t have Kendallville and Avilla any more, but thoughts are, that’s my backyard,” Abbott said, confident he would still be able to represent his Noble County neighbors even if indirectly. With Orange and Swan townships in Noble County still under his purview, he’d still represent half of the East Noble School district.
Now, District 18 would constitute about the northern half of Whitley County, as well as more of eastern Kosciusko County and southeast Elkhart County.
Those areas are still rural landscape similar to a lot of Noble County, but also come with more lakes and more manufacturing, especially in the RV industry.
“Now I’m going to pick up more of the lake communities, Wawasee and Syracuse and the lakes in Kosciusko,” Abbott said.
The changes will also bring him closer to the medical device manufacturing industry in Whitley County and out near Warsaw, but also add more RV territory from the Goshen area into his portfolio.
The shift in that direction was inevitable, Abbott said, as the region is boxed in by the Michigan and Ohio borders, so as districts need to change they have to change either south or west.
Abbott will be putting more miles on his car to visit parts of his districts, as his Rome City home is now on the very corner of his expansive territory.
“In northeast Indiana, you can’t go north and you can’t go east, so we had to go west,” he said.
Smaltz saw the next biggest change in boundaries as compared to the 2011 maps. Currently, District 52 covers all of DeKalb County as well as the Huntertown area in Allen County, and Otsego and Richland townships in Steuben County.
“It’s Hoosiers and representing Hoosiers no matter where we end up,” Smaltz said of the change to his district. “I am looking forward to meeting new people. I will continue to dedicate myself to those in the current District 52 and prepare to work hard for those in the next District 52.”
In the new maps, Smaltz has been pulled out of Allen County and instead moved into more of Steuben County and part of Noble. He’ll remain across all of DeKalb County, but add Wayne and Allen townships in Noble as well as Steuben and York townships in Steuben County.
Smaltz said he believed everyone that worked on the redistricting effort did a yeomans job.
“The Ashley-Pleasant Lake area, I wish I could have retained that,” Zent said about losing Steuben Township. “Seeing as how some of the districts have really changed I can’t complain much.”
That will add population centers in Kendallville and Avilla, as well as more of the I-69 corridor in southern Steuben County to his territory.
Zent had the least change in his district, merely shifting slightly as Abbott retreated from LaGrange and Smaltz pushed into Steuben.
Going forward, District 51 will now represent all of LaGrange County as well as the other eight townships in Steuben County, keeping most of Steuben’s lakes under Zent’s representation. Zent lives on Lake James in the heart of Steuben County lake country.