Redistricting splits county in two
The new district maps Oregon legislators adopted divide Jefferson County between two districts.
"It's weird how it was kind of wiggled through there," says Jefferson County Commission Chair Kelly Simmelink. "All county lines should have been boundaries."
Instead, the districts follow seemingly arbitrary lines.
The new District 57 takes a chunk of north Jefferson County -- the entire Warm Spring Indian Reservation, Gateway and Agency Plains -- and groups those areas with Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam, Wheeler, Morrow and part of Umatilla counties.
The south half of Jefferson County, including Madras, Metolius and Culver, ties to Crook County and the northeast corner of Deschutes County to form the new District 59.
The new District 52 reaches a tentacle from Hood River County over to The Dalles, which just happens to be where Rep. Daniel Bonham (R) lives.
"It felt a little personal," says Bonham, who represents the current District 59, which includes the whole of Jefferson County, Wheeler County, the north part of Deschutes County and the west half of Wasco County.
If Bonham wants to continue as a representative after this term, he has two choices: run in District 52 where he currently lives or move to join his wife who lives in Metolius and run against his colleague Vikki Breese Iverson (R) Prineville, who lives in the newly drawn District 59.
"The question is who's in whose district?" says Bonham. "Quite frankly, I don't have an interest in running against a friend of mine."
Currently, Bonham's district is heavily Republican. In the last election, 60% voted Republican, 37% voted Democrat.
Running for office in District 52 doesn't look promising for a Republican like Bonham. That district includes Hood River County and parts of Multnomah and Clackamas County plus The Dalles and leans Democrat by an 8% margin.
Bonham believes the Democrats redesigned District 52 with the next election in mind.
"House District 52 in the last election cycle, the Democrat that won only won by 84 votes." Bonham says the new district eliminated some conservative areas and added some more liberal leaning towns. "So, we took someone who was in a swing seat in a very competitive race that most likely if you ran that race again in a Biden mid-term, the Republican is going to win."
The new boundaries elbowed Bonham out of his district even though he served on the redistricting commission. House Speaker Tina Kotek promised equal representation if Republicans stopped using tactics to slow voting on Democratic legislation.
"By getting equal representation on the committee, we thought we had earned a voice in that process," says Bonham.
Later, Kotek took back the promise, saying Republicans weren't negotiating in good faith. "When Democrats say we didn't participate in negotiations, I get that," says Bonham, "because you basically put a gun to our heads and said take it or leave it."
Republicans have filed a challenge to the Congressional District map, and Bonham says he's certain Republicans will also challenge the state legislative and state senate district maps.
Every two years, representative re-evaluate whether to run for office again. These new maps add complications to Bonham's decision. Where will he run? Against whom? Will he run at all?
"I still own a business in The Dalles." Bonham says he needs to weigh several factors. "Running a business, my family has some health issues right now that are a consideration, and there's always other opportunities."
"Daniel Bonham's a jewel, and I hated to see him get moved out of his district," says Gary Harris, Agency Plains farmer. "There should have been an attempt to keep the farmland district together in Jefferson County. They could have easily kept us with Jefferson and Crook County."
"It really kind of stinks for us," says Simmelink. "We've been working so hard with the irrigation district. Now you have more hands that you have to catch up and maybe they don't have the same interests."
Simmelink doesn't want to lose momentum by breaking the continuity in representation.
He considers Sen. Lynn Findley and Rep. Bonham friends. "They've done so much good for us, and they're on my speed dial."
The Senate Districts changed as well. North Jefferson County links with Wasco, Sherman, Gilliam Wheeler, Morrow, Umatilla, Union and Wallowa counties. South Jefferson County links to parts of Deschutes County and Crook, Lake, Grant, Harney, Baker and Malheur counties.
Challenges could alter the legislative maps here and there. Regardless of the outcome, both Simmelink and Bonham think the process needs to change.
"We've got to come up with a better solution for doing this that takes the politics out of it," says Simmelink.
"I say amen!" Bonham says he's a big fan of independent redistricting. "I'm not just saying it because we're in the super minority. I don't like the idea of politicians choosing their voters. I don't think it's healthy for democracy."
Candidates won't be able to file for the May primary until the legislative maps are finalized.
"No matter what, I'm still the House District 59 State Representative through January of 2023 when the new folks are sworn in," says Bonham, "and I'm definitely going to serve out my term and continue to work hard until I'm done."
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