Friday, January 27, 2012

Legal arguments mar redistricting process

Commission reconvenes amid confusion


By KATHERINE WUTZ
Express Staff Writer

The state redistricting process was marred by confusion and uncertainty this week as two GOP members of the state committee for reapportionment were fired, then reinstated just before the committee convened Thursday morning.

Speaker of the House Lawerence Denney and Idaho GOP Chair Norm Semanko announced Monday that they were removing their appointees to the committee. Though the Idaho Attorney General's office drafted an opinion stating that state code did not allow commission appointees to be removed, Denney and Semanko argued that they had the power to remove as well as appoint commission members.

Denney nominated former legislator Bob Forrey of Nampa to replace previous appointee Dolores Crow, while Semanko called on Republican activist Angela Cross to replace previous appointee Randy Hansen. The reason for the switch, Denney told The Associated Press last week, was because Crow and Hansen did not sufficiently represent party interests during the redrawing of electoral boundaries this fall.

This move was vehemently criticized by state Democrats on Wednesday. Idaho Democratic Party Executive Director Shelley Landry said in a press release that Denney's move was motivated by personal political reasons.

"The poisonous culture in our Statehouse is a direct result of this type of behavior, where the leader of the House goes against his own party members to make a decision for what appears to be his own personal gain," she said. "The current redistricting map has put Denney into a five-way race for re-election."

On Wednesday, when Chief Justice Roger S. Burdick denied a petition filed by Denney and Semanko to have Crow and Hansen removed. The court ruled that the petitioners had not shown a legal right to seek the order.

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In a statement released Thursday, Denney and Semanko said they hoped the court would still rule at some point on how commission members can be replaced.

"The Commission will reconvene today with a cloud of uncertainty continuing to hang over it with regard to the ultimate legality of any new plan it may adopt," they said.

Meanwhile, Blaine County staffers are worried that the redistricting confusion may lead to a more stressful summer for them.

The Legislature introduced a bill last week to move state and local primaries from May to August, giving more time for the redistricting commission to draw new electoral boundaries.

"I really for my own selfish reasons am hoping they don't move it to August," said County Clerk JoLynn Drage during a county meeting Tuesday.

The county clerk is in charge of both elections and county budget processes. The budget process begins in early summer, but must be finalized in August. Drage said she couldn't imagine that her office could handle both finalizing budgets and holding primary elections in the same month.

"That would be an extremely wonderful way to spend the summer," she said with sarcasm.

The redistricting commission will meet through Friday of next week to work on a new map that splits fewer counties than the previously approved plan, which was struck down by the Idaho Supreme Court earlier this month.

Kwutz@mtexpress.com




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