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TriMet, North Clackamas board member placed amid showdown between secretary of state, Legislature.

Happy Valley resident Kathy Wai has been appointed Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan's redistricting administrator as Fagan and the Legislature appear headed for a showdown over who will control redistricting of legislative and congressional maps.

Kathy WaiA member of the TriMet Board and the North Clackamas School Board, Wai previously was census justice director at Oregon Futures Lab.

Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said lawmakers will continue to explore "all options." Taylor said leaders of the redistricting committees in the Senate and the House are asking legislative leadership to authorize legal help to represent the Legislature before the Oregon Supreme Court.

The Senate Redistricting Committee heard testimony on Feb. 3 from U.S. Census Bureau officials that data legally required for the Legislature to draw maps would not be available until after it adjourns July 1.

It was supposed to arrive April 1.

"We have not been able to achieve that," said Kathleen M. Styles, the chief of the census department dealing with redistricting.

Styles said data being sent to all states was delayed because of the difficulty of counting the population amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which struck just as the count was getting under way in March.

Regional disasters and demonstrations slowed counts, including the wildfires in California and Oregon, hurricanes in the southeast and major demonstrations during the summer after George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a white Minneapolis police officer.

Politics came into play, with confusing directives from the Trump administration changing the process of the count and the transition to the new Biden administration.

"This has been a census unlike any other." Styles said.

The data problem is particularly acute for six states, including Oregon, which have constitutionally mandated deadlines for redistricting in 2021.

Added to the mix is the likelihood that Oregon's population growth will give it a sixth congressional seat whose boundaries would have to be carved out of the current five districts. Oregon last received an additional congressional seat in 1980.

Also at stake is $1.5 trillion in federal aid that is sent to states based on their census numbers.

'Won't be caught off guard'

Oregon has 60 House districts and 30 Senate districts. Each Senate district encompasses two House districts within its boundaries. The number of seats remains the same, but the district lines are adjusted to balance populations.

Under state law, the Legislature was supposed to receive the data by April 1 and has until it adjourns on July 1 to submit maps that would then go to Gov. Kate Brown for approval.

If the maps are not submitted by July 1, Fagan would be in charge of redistricting of legislative districts, while the congressional districts would be drawn by a five-judge panel. The secretary of state reiterated this month that she was preparing the groundwork to draw the maps.

"The Oregon Constitution is clear," Fagan said.

Fagan said the problem had been looming for months as the census missed earlier deadlines to provide basic information on its once-a-decade count of the nation's population.

"The US Census Bureau has been signaling the possibility of delays since last spring," Fagan said. "We won't be caught off guard."

Legislature fires back

Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, a member of the Senate Redistricting Committee, said Fagan's announcement of Wai's hire was a surprise.

"I would say the secretary of state is incredibly premature," Knopp said. "I think the idea is to try to have the Legislature do its constitutional duty. The delay is because of COVID-19 and other things beyond our control."

Knopp said the lawmakers would seek a pre-emptive judgment from the court extending the deadline for the Legislature to submit a redistricting plan. If approved, the Legislature would hold a special session for redistricting as early as mid-summer.

Knopp said neither the Legislature nor Fagan may get what they want. The census delay could stretch past the Aug. 15 deadline for Fagan and the judges' panel to submit maps the committee.

"All the deadlines could pass," Knopp said. "We need a plan in place."

Members of the Senate committee floated possible options, though all would require legal opinions, according to Milwaukie's representative in the Oregon Senate.

"There has been a discussion in Oregon about using other data," Taylor said. "Attorneys say that's questionable since we have always used census block data."

Population growth

A forecast by Portland State University using preliminary, unofficial data showed House districts would likely grow from the current 63,851 to 71,000, while Senate districts would grow from 127,702 people to 142,000 and each of the congressional districts — including the added sixth seat — would have about 710,000 people.

"Oregon has grown very, very quickly," Portland State University population researcher Charles Rynerson said.

Rynerson said Oregon's population is estimated at just over 4.2 million, up from 3.86 million in the 2010 census. The preliminary U.S. Census number put the nation's population above 331 million, up from 309 million in 2010. Styles said final figures could push the U.S. population as high as 336 million.

Rynerson said the greatest rate of growth since the last census was in the Bend area, along with some eastern suburbs of Portland.

The forecast singled out Senate District 27 — held by Knopp — as one that will likely need a major boundary overhaul.

House District 54, which includes Bend and is represented by freshman Rep. Jason Knopf, D-Bend, was also mentioned as needing a major adjustment.

Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, said the estimates were enough to begin discussing the rough outlines of districts for 2022.

"We can be in the ballpark," he said. "You can figure out where you have to expand and contract."

But Styles cautioned that the data required for redistricting is a block-by-block count. Federal and state laws are strict about the requirements for district layouts. They also include key measures required under the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act that are not yet available.

Historic redistricting looms

For the first time this century, Democrats have control of both chambers of the Legislature and the governorship. That "trifecta" could have paved the way for approval of district maps that only require a majority vote to send to the governor.

Fagan is also a Democrat, but the makeup of the five-judge panel wouldn't be known until the deadlines are passed.

In 2011, the House was tied 30-30 between Democrats and Republicans, while Democrats had a 16-14 majority in the Senate. The Legislature worked out a largely bipartisan plan, which was signed into law by the Gov. John Kitzhaber, a Democrat.

Redistricting didn't go so smooth in 2001. Republicans held majorities in the House and Senate, but Kitzhaber was in an earlier stint at governor. The Legislature approved a redistricting plan, which Kitzhaber vetoed. Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat, drafted the maps, which were upheld following court challenges.


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