A look back at Redistricting 10 years ago

by Bruce McCain & Dan Lucas

In 2001, Democrats in the Oregon legislature fled the reach of state police by hiding out on the Warm Springs Reservation, like their counterparts in Wisconsin did this year in their flight to Rockford, Illinois. State districts ended up being drawn by Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, and the congressional districts were drawn by a Multnomah County Circuit Court.

State Senate and House Districts

In 2001, the Oregon Democrats pulled a “Madison, WI” and bolted for the Warm Springs Reservation to avoid being dragged back to Salem by Oregon State Police troopers, who had no jurisdiction on the reservation. The lack of a quorum prevented the Republican majority from overriding Democratic Governor Kitzhaber’s veto, and the issue was punted to Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury.

Bradbury went on to draw a hyper-partisan redistricting plan – that at times was downright petty. He redrew Sen. Jason Atkinson right out of his senate district – moving the district a stone’s throw from Sen. Atkinson’s newly remodeled home.

Kate Brown, Senate Democratic Leader at the time, denied that Bradbury had done anything to favor his party – obviously ignoring the petty lines Bradbury drew around Sen. Atkinson’s home and “districts with tentacles that reach from suburbs into Democrat-rich urban areas of Portland, Eugene and Corvallis”. Despite Kate Brown’s claims, Harry Esteve at the Oregonian reported in 2001 that “political analysts who have examined the plan say it’s about as partisan as they come“.

Federal Congressional Districts

In 2001, the federal congressional districts ended up being drawn by a Multnomah County Circuit Court (a state court). The case was Perrin v. Kitzhaber.

Either federal or state courts can hear the case, because neither the U.S. nor Oregon constitutions provide any mechanism or timeline for state legislatures to do the job other than the statutory and constitutional criteria for redistricting. The state legislative process has strict timelines and a clear “appeal” process, but there is no corresponding process for federal congressional districts if the legislature doesn’t do its job.