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For the week of April 11 through April 17, 2001

Redistricting jeopardizes Magic Valley seats

Blaine County may come out unscathed

"It’s an excellent opportunity for the Democratic Party. There’s more likelihood that we’ll start electing Democrats, or at least moderate Republicans, from cities."

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

On most political issues, they’re polar opposites, but it’s conceivable that Blaine and Custer counties could be combined for representation in the Idaho Legislature by 2003.

That is just one possible consequence to the state’s legislative makeup from population changes recorded by Census 2000.

Idaho is divided into 35 legislative districts, each represented by one senator and two representatives. The Senate contains 32 Republicans and three Democrats. The House contains 61 Republicans and nine Democrats.

Every 10 years, in the wake of the U.S. Census, the state undergoes a process known as redistricting. It is a reshuffling of political district boundaries aimed at giving all state residents equal representation in the Legislature. Each district is supposed to have roughly the same number of residents.

At this point, it’s largely speculation, but six appointees—three Democrats and three Republicans—will hammer out new legislative districts behind closed doors in Boise this summer. The six-member redistricting commission will have 90 days, or until Aug. 29, to complete the redistricting process.

"They are the only and final authority" on redistricting, Legislative Services policy analyst Ross Borden said. Appeals would be up to the Idaho Supreme Court, which could remand the reformed districts to the commission.

House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, said she’s heard discussion among legislators over the past few weeks of the possible inclusion of Custer County in a redrawn District 21, which includes Blaine County.

Several other aspects of redistricting are more clear cut, based on Census 2000 figures.

Two or three legislative districts now devoted to Idaho’s rural areas will shift to the Boise and Coeur d’Alene areas, where populations have swelled over the past decade. Since the 1990 census, Ada and Canyon counties have grown about 45 percent and Kootenai County has grown 55 percent.

Comparatively anemic growth in the Magic Valley’s five legislative districts sets the stage for evaporation of at least three seats there when lines are redrawn this summer, Jaquet said.

Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, D-Ketchum, said, "The Treasure Valley is going to gain two seats, and those are going to have to come from somewhere. The pain is going to come in eastern Idaho, and that means the Magic Valley."

Political parties sometimes see redistricting as an opportunity to draw boundaries that favor their candidates and hurt the opposition.

That happened in 1991, when the Republican-controlled Legislature watered down the Democrats’ north Idaho base by splitting it into several districts.

Rural lawmakers have fretted for years over a worrisome trend: Boise’s technology-driven growth is sapping the influence of Idaho’s once-omnipotent natural resources and agricultural communities.

Jaquet, on the other hand, said she sees redistricting as a welcome opportunity to get more moderate lawmakers into the Statehouse.

"It’s an excellent opportunity for the Democratic party," she said. "There’s more likelihood that we’ll start electing Democrats, or at least moderate Republicans, from cities."

Census 2000 counted just under 1.3 million Idaho residents. When divided by the state’s 35 legislative districts, that means each district should have about 37,000 residents. The number was 28,800 in 1990.

None of the Magic Valley’s current districts meet the new population threshold.

The only one that comes close is District 21, which includes all of Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties and portions of Elmore and Gooding counties. With a population of 36,364 people, District 21 represents the Magic Valley’s healthiest population increase in the past 10 years, with a 32.2 percent jump from 1990’s population of 27,512.

Courts reviewing the constitutionality of new legislative districts typically allow the map makers up to a 5 percent margin of error. So District 21 may be large enough to avoid any serious adjustment of its boundaries, at least on a numerical basis.

The remainder of the Magic Valley’s districts probably will not be so fortunate.

District 25, which comprises all of Cassia County and portions of Minidoka and Twin Falls counties, is most vulnerable. It has just 29,796 residents. It has the smallest population increase of all of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts over the past 10 years, with an 8.8 percent jump from 27,388 in 1990.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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