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New congressional districts could mean a crowded and expensive race for at least a couple of regions

COURTESY PHOTO: BEND BULLETIN/EO MEDIA GROUP - Jamie McLeod-Skinner of Central Oregon has formed a committee to make a run at the 5th Congressional District seat.Jamie McLeod-Skinner, a Democrat from Crooked River Ranch, has filed to run for Congress next year against incumbent U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Canby.

McLeod-Skinner, who previously ran for Congress in 2018 and Oregon Secretary of State in 2020, filed a statement of candidacy on Tuesday, Oct. 26, with the Federal Election Commission. The filing also created a Jamie For Oregon political action committee to raise and spend funds for a 2022 campaign for the 5th Congressional District race.

ocbMcLeod-Skinner's filing is the first open salvo in a bid by progressives to unseat Schrader, the most moderate of the four Democrats in the Oregon congressional delegation. Schrader opposed legislation to control prescription drug prices and other policies supported by President Joe Biden and most Democrats in Congress.

McLeod-Skinner declined to discuss her potential candidacy. During an Oct. 11 interview about the new congressional maps, McLeod-Skinner said, "I haven't made a final decision, but I'm very seriously considering it."

New district maps

The musical chairs surrounding Oregon's congressional seats was set off by the state's booming population during the past decade. The 435 seats in the U.S. House are apportioned every 10 years after a census. Some states can get more seats, and some lose seats as the total number of House members stays the same.

With a 10% growth rate during the past 10 years, according to the 2020 U.S. Census, Oregon picked up a sixth congressional seat. The growth rate across the state ranged from torrid to tepid. Among Oregon's 36 counties, only Grant County lost population.

The biggest percentage gains were in the Bend area in Central Oregon's Deschutes County, and in the suburbs around Portland.

The Legislature, with supermajorities of Democrats in both chambers, approved new congressional and legislative district maps on Sept. 27, a process delayed by months due to the lateness of census data due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new maps would go into effect with the 2022 election and would not be automatically revised until the 2032 election.

Easy races?

Schrader and U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield, have won tight races in recent years while their Democratic colleagues, U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Portland, and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, had easier races every two years.

The 2022 redistricting made Schrader and DeFazio the incumbents of more Democrat-friendly districts. DeFazio's new district is familiar ground shorn of some of its Republican-leaning areas.

Schrader also inherits a redistricted seat that voter registration would suggest is an easier win for a Democrat. But the mapmakers sliced the main portions of his familiar territory into chunks, with the rump left over attached to unfamiliar ground on the east side of the Cascades.

The new district will run from the Woodstock neighborhood of Portland, through parts of Linn, Clackamas and Marion counties. It then crosses the Cascades at the Santiam Pass and scoops up portions of northwestern Deschutes County, including Bend, parts of Redmond, and parts of Sunriver, before dead-ending near Waldo Lake.

The 5th district has a population of 706,209 that Democrats who drew the district lines say is joined by U.S. Highway 20 as it cuts through the Cascades, with Three Fingered Jack to the north and Mount Washington to the south. The highway crests at the Santiam Pass, 4,816 feet above sea level.

During legislative debate, Republicans complained that the only Portland-to-Bend connection was a political desire to link Democratic areas on both sides of the Cascades.

Bend and Redmond are in the 2nd U.S. Congressional District represented by the lone GOP member of Oregon's delegation, freshman U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.

Republicans led by former Oregon Secretary of State Bev Clarno of Redmond filed a lawsuit claiming the new maps unfairly gave Democrats an overwhelming chance to win five of the six districts.

A special panel of five retired judges will begin hearing arguments over the lawsuit on Wednesday, Oct. 27, in Salem. They can recommend that the Oregon Supreme Court accept the new maps or that the court should require a revision.

PMG FILE PHOTO - U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader could face several challenges for the redrawn 5th Congressional District seat.

Constitutional wrinkle

While McLeod-Skinner is gambling that the maps will hold up in court, other Democrats and Republicans are waiting to see where the final borders are drawn.

That may include Schrader. Asked about his plans for the election next year, spokeswoman for the seven-term congressman precisely said: Schrader is running for election in 2022. Schrader's home is in the new 5th District.

The two statements are not mutually inclusive. Unlike state legislators, the U.S. Constitution does not require House members to be residents of their districts, just of the state they would represent.

Schrader has the option of seeking the new 6th U.S. Congressional District seat, which is adjacent to his hometown of Canby and includes much of his current district.

A caution light is the presence of Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, the top state House Democrat on the redistricting committees. She plans to run for Congress in the new 6th district.

The constitutional wrinkle on residency also affects McLeod-Skinner. The 5th district line is just south of her home outside Terrebonne, in the portion of Crooked River Ranch that lies within Jefferson County. The town in northern Deschutes County is in the mailing address for her house.

If the maps are upheld in court, the 2022 race for the 5th district already has a Republican filed to run, former Happy Valley Mayor Lori Chavez-DeRemer.

While critical of the outlines of the new 5th district, former Bend Republican state Rep. Cheri Helt is also looking at the race.

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