Divided Oregon lawmakers OK congressional, legislative maps
A show of bipartisan harmony, it was not.
Democratic majorities passed their plans for congressional and legislative redistricting through the Oregon Legislature over repeated Republican objections during a weeklong special session that ended Monday, Sept. 27, just hours before a deadline laid out by the Oregon Supreme Court.
The Senate passed both plans during a 40-minute session a week earlier. The House took longer.
Separate panels advanced the congressional and legislative redistricting plans to a House vote after Speaker Tina Kotek put a Democratic majority in charge of the first while she left an evenly split panel to decide the second. But then the House put off action for several days because of a confirmed coronavirus infection within the chamber.
Republicans stayed away from a weekend session, despite a new congressional map negotiated by lawmakers, and without them, the House was unable to conduct business. But enough members returned Monday to allow final votes by the House on both plans, and Senate approval of the revised congressional plan.
Click here for the maps adopted by the Oregon Legislature for congressional and legislative districts.
No Republicans voted for either plan. Only two Democrats — Brian Clem of Salem and Brad Witt of Clatskanie — voted against the legislative plan in the House.
"It was a bumpy road from start to finish," Senate President Peter Courtney, the veteran Salem Democrat who has gone through a record five redistricting cycles, said afterward. "But I think history will show we did a good job."
This was only the third time in recent years that lawmakers approved a congressional map — they did so in 1981, after Oregon gained a fifth seat, and in 2011 — and the third time in 110 years for a legislative map, after they did it in 1911 and 2011.
Gov. Kate Brown signed the bills within an hour of adjournment. Her statement said in part:
"After the past year and a half, during which Oregonians have faced unprecedented challenges that have urgently required federal attention and resources, I am particularly grateful that the Legislature has come together to pass today's historic legislation.
"My office reviewed the maps contained in the bills passed by the Legislature after they were proposed this weekend. Redistricting is a process that necessarily involves compromise, and I appreciate the Legislature working to balance the various interests of all Oregonians."
The House session ended with a kerfuffle when Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby moved to censure Kotek over Kotek's decision last week to create two panels, including one with a 2-1 Democratic majority to advance the congressional plan, instead of an equal split between the parties. The motion failed on a party-line vote of the 47 members still present; two Republicans left the chamber early, and 11 from both parties were excused from Monday's session.
Oregon, after narrowly missing it in the 2010 Census, gained a sixth U.S. House seat with population growth of 10.6% in the past decade.
Oregon's two largest growing counties in the past decade, Washington and Deschutes, are now split between congressional districts in the plan, and their legislative districts also shrank. In general, Oregon's urban areas gained people — the three Portland metro counties grew by 12% — and rural areas lost people.
Each Senate district is now an average of 141,242 people; each House district, 70,621.
"We are not able to keep Beaverton whole giving the tremendous population growth in this area," said Democratic Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego, who led both House panels on congressional and legislative redistricting. Beaverton will now be split along Highway 8 and Highway 10 (Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway) for congressional districts.
Republicans complained about many more splits in both plans they found illogical, except to help Democrats.
"But many of us are here because we don't trust the secretary of state to draw these maps, either," first-term GOP Rep. Suzanne Weber of Tillamook said.
If lawmakers had failed, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan would have assumed the task of redrawing lines for the 30 Oregon Senate districts and 60 House districts — two House districts must be nestled within a single Senate district — and a special panel of judges named by Chief Justice Martha Walters would have overseen congressional redistricting.
Legal challenges now go directly to the Oregon Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter for both plans. The justices will have their own deadlines to meet before the plans become final in time for the 2022 elections, filing for which has already opened.
Though the new district lines take effect Jan. 1, 2023, incumbents will continue to serve their current districts, but will have to establish residency in their new districts for the 2022 elections.
Republicans were outspoken in their criticisms, particularly of the congressional plan. Oregon's U.S. House delegation is already at four Democrats and one Republican.
"Spreading out urban voters by having four districts that include portions of Portland is the very definition of gerrymandering," Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod of Lyons said afterward. "There will undoubtedly be court challenges to follow."
An analysis by the FiveThirtyEight.com website says:
• Democrats are solid in the 1st and 3rd districts, which branch out west from Portland to the north coast and east from Portland to Hood River County. The 1st loses part of Washington County and Yamhill County, but gains Tillamook County and inner Northeast Portland east of the Willamette River. The 3rd will extend to more of Clackamas County.
• Democrats are competitive in the 4th District of the southern Willamette Valley and southwest Oregon — it gains Lincoln County from the 5th and loses part of Douglas County to the 2nd — and the new 6th district, which runs from southeast Washington County south into Yamhill and Polk counties and Marion County, including Salem.
• Republicans are solid in the 2nd, which takes in most of Oregon east of the Cascades — except Bend — and south of the Willamette Valley, extending into Douglas County.
• The new 5th, which runs from Portland's south suburbs into the mid-Willamette Valley and then across to Bend, is highly competitive. This district is currently represented by Kurt Schrader of Canby, a Democrat who votes with his party less often than the others in the delegation.
Each district had to be within five people of the average of 706,209 in the 2020 Census. The largest was 706,212.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.