Southern Indiana

Redistricting could eliminate one of Southern Indiana’s state senate districts, potentially complicating upcoming elections.

Indiana’s District 46 has comprised Floyd County, Clarksville and most of Jeffersonville for years. But the new state senate district map released this week divides it between two more rural surrounding districts.

That shakeup has implications for candidates who hope to replace Republican State Sen. Ron Grooms, who won’t seek a fourth term next year.

Floyd County Commissioner Shawn Carruthers threw his hat in the ring in June but is now reconsidering.

“I had a good strategy going in with the old district,” Carruthers said. “Looking at the new district, that changes quite a bit. I think it would be a knee-jerk reaction to make a quick decision right away. I want to take the time to look at the options that’s out there and plan for what my future would look like.”

After decades of being entirely within District 46, Floyd County will now be split between Districts 45 and 47. The western portions of New Albany, along with the rest of the county, will join District 47, which includes the more rural Harrison and Washington counties. An eastern section of the city will be in District 45 with Clark County.

Carruthers said he was surprised by the drastic changes to Floyd County.

“The largest concern is having a voice from our urban community that can represent us in Indianapolis,” he said. “I’d love for the Senate to take another look at and see if this is a right option. Because we have a growing population, and over the next 10 years, it’ll change even more. Just not having that single voice here to represent us is a great concern.”

The same week Carruthers said he was running for state senate, New Albany City Council member Al Knable announced a bid for his commissioner seat.

But unlike Carruthers, Knable said he’s definitely moving forward with his plans, which could result in a primary between the two Republicans.

“I made a commitment to the community to run a vigorous, clean campaign, and if elected to work hard in service to the people of Floyd County,” Knable said. “And I said what I meant, and I meant what I said. I’m staying in the race for commissioner to honor that commitment.”

Knable said the redistricting proposal is concerning for multiple reasons. He argues splitting the city into two districts could lead to confusion among voters as to who their senator is.

The switch also groups much of New Albany, which is largely urban, with the less-developed Harrison and Washington counties. Neither of those counties saw population growth between the 2010 and 2020 censuses.

Conversely, Floyd County grew by 8%, up to more than 80,000 residents. Harrison and Washington counties have a combined 68,000 residents.

“It just seems so unnecessary,” Knable said. “It almost makes it look like we weren’t even considered in the balance. … I wish that we had more uniform representation from one person. I also think there’s an issue between the city, which is less rural than the rest of the district.”

State Sen. Ron Grooms was first elected to represent District 46 in 2010. Like other local leaders, he said he was surprised by the new map.

Grooms said delays to census results caused lawmakers to rush the redistricting process, and that his retirement may have played a role in the decision to split his district.

“Am I happy? No,” Grooms said. “Am I upset? Yes. But that’s a part of the process. That’s part of having to redraw these maps because of the imbalance in the population growth.”

The one positive aspect Grooms saw in the redistricting was the unification of Clark County and Jeffersonville. In the old map, Jeffersonville was split between districts 46 and 45.

Grooms said the biggest factor in the redistricting was likely Clark and Floyd counties’ rapid growth compared to the surrounding area. Clark County’s population increased by nearly 10%, to more than 121,000.

“It’s a sharing of the growth,” Grooms said. “We were too successful in growing the population.”

Grooms has endorsed Floyd County resident Kevin Boehnlein to replace him. Boehnlein couldn’t be reached for comment, but he told the News and Tribune this week that he’s staying in the race.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.