Friday, September 2, 2011

Redistricting commission reconvenes

Clock ticks as deadline approaches


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer


Courtesy graphics. Two main maps have been proposed by the redistricting commission for consideration so far. The Democrats’ plan, at left, would keep District 25 mainly the same, as District 26, but add a small part of Twin Falls County to bring the population up slightly. The more recent GOP plan, right, would split the current district, sending Gooding south and grouping Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties with Custer, Lemhi, Butte and Clark counties as District 35.

After reviewing 55 proposed legislative redistricting plans and taking a two-day break, Idaho's citizen Commission for Reapportionment will convene this morning and try to come to an agreement as a Sept. 6 deadline looms.

"It's all still up in the air," said Sen. Michelle Stennett, D-Ketchum. "There's going to be haggling this way and that until the very end."

So far, the commission has drawn up two main plans but has failed to come to an agreement as to how to best divvy up the state into electoral districts. State code requires district lines to be redrawn every 10 years in accordance with the most recent census data, and the U.S. Constitution requires that those districts have about equal populations. As a result of the 2010 census, districts' populations need to be between 42,549 and 47,027.

State law also states that as far as possible, legislative districts should avoid splitting counties, be accessible by designated roads and not divide voting precincts.

Some of the haggling could affect District 25, which currently comprises Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties. More than 2,500 Twin Falls County residents would be added to the district that includes Blaine, Camas, Lincoln and Gooding counties under the preferred Democratic proposal. The Republican plan would divide 11 counties and place Blaine, Camas and Lincoln counties in a district with Custer, Clark, Lemhi and Butte counties.

Stennett said either plan would likely weaken the district's Democratic base, but that the Democratic plan was more likely to keep District 25 blue.

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"Adding Buhl or Hagerman wouldn't change our district very much," she said. "It would diffuse our base, but anything around us would. The little bit [the commission] is asking to add on is certainly manageable."

Stennett and fellow legislator Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, have both expressed serious reservations regarding the Republican plan, however. Public resistance to adding Custer County to District 25 has been a running theme of the process since a public hearing earlier this summer.

Legislators said it would be extremely difficult to represent a district that ran from Salmon to south of Shoshone, an eight-hour round trip even in good weather. Jaquet said earlier this month that any campaign stops in Salmon would require an "overnight commitment."

If legislative and congressional district maps are not approved by four of six commissioners before the Sept. 6 deadline, district lines will be decided by the Idaho Supreme Court, as occurred in 2001. The commissioners will meet today and Sept. 3, 4, 5 and 6 if necessary.

Stennett pointed out that the Republican plan was less likely to hold up if the redistricting plans are sent to the Supreme Court for a final decision.

"We're considered part of the greater Twin Falls area," Stennett said, arguing that any district that encompasses Blaine County and the surrounding area of interest naturally fits with the more agricultural counties to the south.

"I assume the Republicans will still consider [their proposal]," she said. "But it wouldn't hold up legally as well as keeping us within the greater Magic Valley."

Katherine Wutz: kwutz@mtexpress.com




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