At times, it sounded like the order line at a bakery or ice cream parlor Friday afternoon in the Bend City Council chambers: The Democrats all wanted a doughnut (or perhaps a bagel), with Bend as the “hole.” But Republicans would prefer a split (no banana, but mighty a-peeling) – although the lone Pacific Green Party representative called that a schizophrenic setup.
The room wasn’t as full as it is for recent city council meetings, but the topic was as meaty as they come: More than a half-dozen Oregon state senators and representatives, in person or by conference call, holding the second of 13 field hearings around the state on their task of redrawing legislative district boundaries. Sounds like dry stuff, but those in the know realize the maps they must draw by June 30 (or turn the task over to the secretary of state, something they are loath to do) will decide much about the balance of power in Salem for the next 10 years.
There’s some basic math involved in what lawmakers must do each decade: Take the latest state population count (for the 2000 Census, about 3.42 million) and divide it by 60 (for Oregon House districts) and 30 (for state Senate seats). That results in a “target” figure that is the optimum size for each House district – 57,023 residents – and Senate district – 114,047 (double the House number, as each Senate district is comprised of two House districts).
Simple, right? Of course not – not when there’s people, politics, parties and passion involved.
State law gives the criteria legislators must consider when drawing the boundaries for legislative and congressional districts.
“Each district, as nearly as practicable, shall: a) Be contiguous; b) Be of equal population; c) Utilize existing geographic or political boundaries; d) Not divide communities of common interest; and e) Be connected by transportation links.”
District lines aren’t to be drawn `favoring any political party’
“No district,” the rules go on to say, “shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator or other person.” The also can’t be designed “for the purpose of diluting the voting strength of any language or ethnic minority groups.”
And the skies are not cloudy all day. Now, back to reality.
Senate committee Chairman Steve Harper, R-Klamath Falls, noted that the House panel, chaired by Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, takes the lead in drawing up legislative district boundaries, while the Senate tackles the chore – minimal, this year – of drawing congressional district boundaries. (Oregon won’t gain a sixth congressional seat, despite its 20 percent growth over the `90s, so except in the Portland area, the congressional line-drawing won’t garner as much attention.)
When Harper noted that none of the legislators on the committees were involved in the last redistricting task a decade ago, state Sen. (and former Rep.) Bev Clarno, R-Bend – not a panel member but on hand for the hearing – noted that she indeed was involved the last time. In fact, before the 1990 Census, Districts 54 and 55 split Bend along Highway 97. The last remapping put all of Bend in District 54, now represented by Republican Tim Knopp, and the surrounding area in fellow Republican Ben Westlund’s District 55.
While District 55 includes much of Deschutes and all of Jefferson and Wasco counties at present, 54 is a narrow pinnacle that extends south into Klamath County. District 54 is almost 16,000 voters larger than the target figure and 55 is about 10,000 residents too big for the equalization britches. But put `em together, and Clarno’s Senate District 27 must shed about 26,000 residents to hit the target – and that’s not easy.
So the testimony centered around two basic options: one to take Bend and its 53,000 residents (and maybe areas to the south like Sunriver) and carve a doughnut city district out of the more rural county. The other option would split the two House districts, with each getting part of Bend – dividing it likely east-west, as it was in the `80s, or perhaps north-south, at Highway 20 or somesuch.
Republicans oppose a Bend-dominated district; Democrats say it makes sense
Since Bend now has close to an even Democratic/Republican voter split – unlike the heavily Republican rural areas – it’s no surprise that Democrats like the idea of a Bend-only House member, to help boost their party’s clout in the region and in Salem. And it’s no wonder that Republicans aren’t in the mood to stomach a doughnut and would rather divide Bend than face a risk of being conquered.
Fifteen-year Sunriver resident Dave Ghormley said he and county Commissioner Dennis Luke “both like doughnuts. We don’t like doughnuts in politics.” He said the south county is “highly oriented toward what goes on in the city of Bend” and they have mutual interests. Calling himself a veteran of California’s “gerrymandering” that gave him a liberal representative, Tom Hayden, Ghormley urged legislators to maintain the current grouping as much as possible.
“If you try to isolate the city of Bend, you’ll end up with two strongly diverse viewpoints,” he said. While it “may be more convenient for the people in the city of Bend,” he was one of several to say all of Central Oregon should be represented by each of its lawmakers.
That wasn’t the view of west Bend resident Robb Reavill, who said “logic and common sense dictate that (Bend) should not be split off as its own House district.” She said the city has its own economic and business interests, as well as microclimate and watershed and “commonality of interests” that are “vastly different from that of the southern part of the present district.”
To Luke, a former District 54 lawmaker, the question is how to draw district lines that represent “common interest that transcends rivalry” between different parts of the region. While creating a Bend House district would intensify that rivalry, splitting it in another way “makes each representative responsible to a wide variety of county voters,” Luke said.
“I would hope we don’t create a doughnut district out of Bend,” Luke added, as opposed to two districts that “need to be cognizant of all the issues in the county.”
Green Party member: City-based district beats `schizophrenic’ split
Philip Randall, a self-described “human rights activist” and Pacific Green Party representative, claimed that splitting the city in half before didn’t work. As a Green Party member, he said he believes he has a “greater chance of being represented” in a district encompassing the city of Bend, “rather than splitting it into some kind of schizophrenic” division.
Bend Mayor Bill Friedman agreed with Luke and others that the region’s leaders have worked well together. “I think either of the two districting schemes would work,” he said. Taking up the doughnut analogy in humorous fashion, Friedman said, “If you think of us as a jelly doughnut, the gooey center has more in common with itself than the dough around the outside.”
“I don’t think it’s a black or white, left or right, up or down, Democrat or Republican issue,” the mayor added.
Bruce Bishop, executive director of the High Desert Forum and a former foreign service officer, told the legislators, “I hope whatever decision you make will strengthen and support the democratic system. … As long as it’s free and open horse trading, I wish you Godspeed.”
Democrat Ken Cooper, who tried to unseat Knopp last fall but failed, said the idea of a district primarily made up of Bend fits the redistricting criteria laid down in state law. Barbara McAusland, meanwhile, said Bend’s rapid growth has resulted in “particular problems no other part of this county shares.” She said she hopes a Bend representative would push to expand development fees to cover schools as well.
But Andrea Blum said she lives outside of the city, with a Bend address, in the Sisters School District, and that “the way the district is broken up now is beneficial,” in her view. If Bend is divided, Blum warned, those in the `dough’” – a reference to Friedman’s remark – “would say that again, Bend is the controlling factor,” for both lawmakers.
Deschutes County Democratic Party Chairman Anne Philiben, who ran against Clarno last fall, said the urban area’s interests are different and that a Bend-only representative would be able to more quickly get up to speed on the Legislature – crucial in an era of term limits. As for the “jelly doughnut” talk, she joked, “I think it’s half of a bagel, myself.”
Jefferson County fears moving from `stepchild’ to `orphan’
But former county commissioner Nancy Schlangen feels differently, saying the concerns in the city are aligned with concerns for the entire county. “I think it’s very important that (legislators) understand all of the county,” she said.
Two Jefferson County residents expressed concern about how the new lines could divide Central Oregon. John Hatfield said he could understand how lawmakers might want “to lop off the edges of the district” to meet the requirements. But he said, “We feel we’re Central Oregon – we’re not Easter Oregon, the Columbia River, Hood River Valley or the Cascades. We feel if we were moved east or north or west, we’d lost a lot of our influence and reputation.”
Small business owner Mike Goss agreed, mentioning rumors that the area north of Bend could end up in part of two or three different districts, rather than with Bend and Redmond, with which they share economic, cultural and social ties: “Sometimes we feel like stepchildren,” compared to more populous areas to the south, Goss admitted, “but we don’t want to feel like orphans.”
Bend resident Leonard Peoples asked whether lines could be drawn in a way that would stand again in a decade, or more districts added, but Harper told him: “Nope – we’ll see you in 10 years.”
Clarno said the 1980s east-west split of Bend at Highway 97 (with Bob Pickard representing the other half) worked well, in a time the town wasn’t growing so fast. “Everybody in Bend liked to have two voices speak for them,” she said. As for her sprawling Senate district, Clarno said, “I want to keep almost all of the people, but I know I can’t.” Clarno later noted that the “doughnut” approach to redistricting has proven “very hard to defend in court.”
Committee aide Craig Allen said “everybody’s optimistic” that the June 30 deadline can be met.
Knopp prefers idea of splitting Bend again, as in the ’80s
Knopp arrived from a late adjournment in Salem as the hearing broke up. He said the area was divided pretty well between districts a decade ago and that both districts grew in the ’90s at about the same rate. But if the city was separated out instead, he said, the county area would grow much faster in coming years, creating a more lopsided situation in the future.
Knopp said an east-west division of Bend at Highway 97 or the railroad tracks “is realistic. It gives us more clout to have two representatives from Bend.” And he dismissed criticism of two Bend-dominated legislators, noting that city residents wouldn’t constitute a majority in both of them.