Friday, September 23, 2011

Try, try again

New commission takes a second swing at redistricting

Express Staff Writer

Courtesy graphic One of the plans carried over from the first Idaho Commission for Reapportionment would divide the current legislative District 25 in half. Camas and Gooding counties would be dropped, leaving Blaine and Lincoln counties to be combined with Minidoka county to meet the population requirement.

Idaho's second citizen Commission for Reapportionment will begin meeting next week in an attempt to succeed where the first had failed.

An entirely new set of six commissioners, three each appointed by Republican and Democratic leadership, are set to convene Sept. 28 and continue the process of redrawing the state's legislative and congressional 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 those districts to have approximately equal populations.

The process this year was marred by partisan bickering as commissioners from each party rejected plans based on claims that the other party was gerrymandering, or drawing lines to create districts that would swing toward their own party on Election Day.

After 92 days of work, the commission missed its Sept. 6 deadline, and the decision on how to divvy up the state was thrown to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The court ruled on Sept. 9 that a new commission needed to be reconvened, due to an Idaho law modified in 2009 that forbids previous commissioners from serving again.

The new commission won't be starting from scratch, said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who told The Associated Press last week that he was optimistic that the new commission would take advantage of the foundation laid by its predecessor.

"There's been a lot of work done," he said. "Hopefully, the new commissioners will see that and complete their work expeditiously."

The previous commission viewed 82 legislative and 50 congressional maps, but failed to approve one before the end of its allotted time.

The commission presented four last-minute plans at the beginning of this month, one of which would lump Blaine County with Lincoln and Minidoka counties and drop Camas and Gooding from the district. Another would have combined Blaine, Lincoln and Camas counties with Custer, Butte, Clark and Lemhi counties.

Democratic leadership has nominated Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville, Elmer Martinez of Pocatello and Shauneen Grange of Boise to the second commission. Idaho State Republicans Executive Director Jonathan Parker said Republican leadership plans to announce its representatives at the beginning of next week.

"We're going through a very comprehensive, exhaustive process to ensure we have the best candidates possible," he said.

The second commission will begin its work at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 28, in Boise.

Ysursa told The Associated Press that he hopes the new commission will be less subject to partisan divides.

"There were some obviously strong personalities on the commission, and the vitriol sometimes got away," he said last week. "Hopefully, that won't happen again."

Katherine Wutz:

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