Redistricting hangs in the balance

By Gary Wilhelms,

Redistricting is the single most partisan political project our Legislature faces every ten years. This shouldn’t surprise anyone. After all, legislators are politicians, and they are partisan. We now have legislative district boundaries in Oregon drawn in a most partisan way by Oregon’s former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Governor Kitzhaber made sure of that with his veto. The Legislature did its job and passed plans for both legislative and congressional redistricting. Legislators and staff worked for months putting together plans that accurately reflected the demographics and population growth of the state. The plans were responsive to public testimony and met the requirements of the Oregon Constitution and Oregon State Law.

It became apparent early in the 2001 session that the Democrats’ strategy was to take full advantage of the Constitutional provisions that allowed them to force the redistricting project into their Democrat Secretary of State’s office as opposed to negotiating a legislative compromise. Because the Democrats knew they could count on their Governor’s veto over any plan with which they disagreed, they had no reason to work objectively with the Republicans in the Legislature — and they didn’t. The Democrats stuck to their strategy and were successful in achieving their partisan objectives. Politically, the Democrats did a masterful job. With both Houses of the Legislature controlled by Republicans, the Democrats won, and that victory has given control of the Legislature to the Democrats.

To be fair to the Democrats, Republicans would likely have taken the same action had the roles been reversed. And that’s the problem with the current system. Bipartisanship and redistricting appear to be incompatible.

In 2005-2006, it was my honor to serve as Co-Chair of the Public Commission on the Oregon Legislature. The Commission recognized the extreme partisanship of our current redistricting system and recommended establishment of a redistricting commission to carry out the task. It makes good sense, but, alas, it’s not happening yet. I’m getting impatient (and older), but I will wait and remain optimistic. Some day, Oregonians will do what’s right and pass this needed change, thus preventing such blatant, irresponsible partisanship by either major party from occurring in the future.

  • Dan Estes

    Has it been 10 years already, Gary? Wow…time really flies. I couldn’t agree more with your assessment. It’s a bad system, regardless of who is in charge.

  • rural resident

    Gary, you’re right about it being bitterly partisan. There’s a great deal at stake each time. The plan the Republican-dominated legislature put up last time had more than its share of partisan elements, and Bradbury certainly went to great lengths to draw districts that were favorable to Dems.

    I’ll go back to something I’ve written many times before. Republicans pretty much guaranteed that result when they all but blew off the Secretary of State’s race in 2000. They had to make a choice between ideological purity (all but certainly losing the election) by making Lynn Snodgrass their candidate for SOS, or political pragmatism (and likely winning) by selecting Lynn Lundquist, who was viewed as moderate and a consensus builder. R’s chose the former course. Unfortunate. Elections have consequences.

    Your proposed constitutional change is unlikely to get by the voters. The Dems can use their majorities to continue the current system, and their voters are unlikely to cede power to Republicans, which is what this amounts to. Given the current politics, this proposal amounts to little more than the Republicans admitting that they have little chance to win key elections that would put them in control. It looks too much like term limits, which translated to, “Let’s force Democrats out of power, making it easier to elect Republicans, at which time we’ll do away with term limits so we can stay in power.”

    The one dynamic that could change that is if the Republicans are willing to try to get this on the ballot at a point where they have power of redistricting decisions. At that point, they would be saying, “We are willing to give up some of the power we have because this alternative is so much better for the state as a whole.” That would truly make a statement about the proposal.

    • Anonymous

      Lynn Lundquist in his own way is as big a weasel as Bradbury. Not as evil as Bradbury but certainly not a trusted Republican. Too many examples to cite ‘cept M’s 66 & 67.

      • rural resident

        Anon, this is a perfect example of the kind of thinking that put your party in this position. No doubt you think that Dems should unilaterally surrender the advantage they enjoy in the redistricting battle to come.

        I guess Lundquist is a “weasel” because he reached across the aisle to work with Democrats on school finance. His willingness to be practical and reasonable, to listen to valid concerns of people occupying other parts of the political spectrum, and to put the people of Oregon first clearly made him unacceptable to the far-right wacko element that has taken over the Oregon (and national) Republican party. Too bad. Statesmanship on the part of both parties should always be in style.

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