Special session will focus on Oregon political maps
Oregon lawmakers will meet in a special session starting Monday, Sept. 20, to consider new congressional and legislative district maps shaped largely by Democratic majorities after the 2020 Census.
Lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown have one week — until Sept. 27 — to complete approval. If they fail to adopt plans by then, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will be in charge of legislative redistricting and a panel of retired judges named by the Oregon Supreme Court will oversee congressional redistricting.
Legislative leaders say redistricting is the only item that lawmakers will consider in the special session, which leaders have allowed two days for. Lawmakers are at the Capitol all week for their regularly scheduled round of committee meetings between regular sessions.
The Community Alliance of Tenants plans a demonstration Monday outside the Capitol to urge lawmakers to reimpose a moratorium on evictions that ended June 30. Tenants have a 60-day grace period — 90 days in Multnomah County — if they show proof to landlords they have applied for state rental assistance, but that aid has been slow in being paid out.
Redistricting plans drawn up by the Legislature, or the secretary of state and the special panel, are subject to challenges that go directly to the Supreme Court.
The high court is the final arbiter for both plans. Its target deadline is no later than Feb. 8, one month before the filing deadline for the May 17, 2022, primary election.
The plans will shape who is elected to the six U.S. House seats — Oregon gained one after the 2020 Census — the 30 Oregon Senate seats and 60 House seats for the next decade.
The Capitol is open to the public for the special session — the building reopened July 12 after the coronavirus pandemic prompted its closure for 16 months, including three special sessions in 2020 and this year's 159-day regular session that ended June 26 — but the Senate and House chambers will be closed to the public. Also, legislative committees will continue to meet virtually; most committee hearing rooms are in a section of the Capitol that is undergoing seismic reinforcement and other upgrades.
The Democratic leader of the Senate redistricting committee and the Democratic co-leader of the House redistricting committee issued this statement last week upon release of the maps that lawmakers will consider in the special session:
"Our commitment is to Oregonians and our job is to produce fair and representative maps that reflect Oregon's population growth, align with statutory and constitutional criteria and ensure public participation," the statement by Sen. Kathleen Taylor of Milwaukie and Rep. Andrea Salinas of Lake Oswego said.
"The maps drawn meet these requirements and the highest of legal standards. The maps are contiguous, of equal population, utilize existing geographic or political boundaries, are connected by transportation links, and reflect the diversity of communities of interest in our state.
"Despite the delayed Census data and the COVID-19 pandemic, we have prioritized an inclusive and accessible process, open to all Oregonians. As a result, we saw nearly 2,000 pieces of testimony submitted from across the state during 22 public hearings held this year. Oregonians showed up and made their voices heard."
No statement was issued by Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, a Republican from Albany who is co-leader of the House redistricting panel.
But she said at the outset of the legislative hearings: "If you take a look at these maps of proposed district lines, and you agree or disagree with how the lines are drawn, I invite you to share those thoughts with the committee. The time is now to have your voice heard."
The House panel was split 3-3 after Speaker Tina Kotek of Portland added Republican leader Christine Drazan of Canby and made Boshart Davis a co-chair during the 2021 regular session. In exchange, Republicans dropped their insistence on a constitutional requirement for all legislation to be read aloud before a final vote. The requirement is normally waived, but Republican minorities have used it as a stalling tactic in recent sessions. The tacit agreement allowed the House to break a legislative logjam.
The Senate panel remains at three Democrats and two Republicans.
Apparently all the maps will be incorporated into legislation that originates in the Senate, given the 3-3 tie in the House committee.
State law specifies the factors that mapmakers must take into consideration when drawing maps, although courts have given leeway for legislative districts.
The Supreme Court set out a new timetable after the U.S. Census Bureau delayed the release of census-block data — from its original date at the end of March — that is considered the most precise in drawing new maps after each 10-year census. Under the Oregon Constitution, lawmakers normally have until July 1 to complete new legislative district maps. Neither the Constitution nor the high court set a timetable for the congressional map.
Lawmakers received the census-block data on Aug. 12 and unveiled competing Democratic and Republican proposals on Sept. 3. Senate and House committees have conducted a total of 12 hearings, all online after a surge in the delta variant of the COVID-19 coronavirus forced them to scrap in-person field hearings around Oregon.
Each of the six U.S. House districts must have populations that differ by no more than five people. Courts are stricter about interpreting equal populations for congressional districts than for legislative districts, which can differ by up to 10%, although the 2011 plan averaged just 3%.
Oregon now has four Democrats and one Republican in the U.S. House.
The proposed Democratic congressional map splits two of the fastest growing counties in the 2020 Census. Washington County west of Portland is split between the current 1st District — solidly Democratic — and a new 6th District that also takes in part of Marion County, plus Polk and Yamhill counties. Deschutes County is split between the current 2nd District — solidly Republican — and the 3rd District that would extend east of Portland into Central Oregon, including Democratic-leaning Bend.
To offset the loss of Bend, the proposed map would extend the 2nd District into all of Josephine County (Grants Pass is already in the district) and part of Douglas County, areas that lean Republican. The 5th District would be centered on the Mid-Willamette Valley, minus the central coast, which would be added to the 4th District.
U.S. representatives are not required to be residents of their districts, only their states, but practically all maintain addresses in their districts.
Oregon does have residency requirements for state lawmakers.
All 60 representatives and the 15 senators up for election in 2022 have until Feb. 8, or a date established by the court if a plan is finalized sooner, to establish residency if they want to seek re-election. The normal time is one year. The new boundaries take effect Jan. 1, 2023, but even though incumbent lawmakers would continue serving their current districts through 2022, they would have to run in the new districts for the 2023 session.
The other 15 senators who are in the middle of their four-year terms will be assigned to districts. They cannot lose their seats in the 2023 session as a result of redistricting.
Democrats now command majorities over Republicans of 37-23 in the House and 18-12 in the Senate.
A decade ago
Ten years ago, congressional and legislative district plans drafted by lawmakers went unchallenged in the courts. It was the first time for a congressional map since 1981, when Oregon added a U.S. House seat, and the first time for a legislative map in a century.
Back then, the Oregon House was split 30-30 and the Senate 16-14, Democrats holding a one-seat majority.
Both parties came up with competing maps. But Republicans ultimately agreed to boundary adjustments in the 2000 plan for legislative districts — despite their past criticism that the 2000 plan tilted toward Democrats — to avoid having then-Secretary of State Brown draw the maps. As for the congressional map in 2011, Republicans agreed to include Corvallis (home of Oregon State University) in the 4th District, which aided Democratic incumbent Peter DeFazio of Springfield, in exchange for Democrats reducing the part of Multnomah County in the 5th District, which made it slightly more competitive for Democratic incumbent Kurt Schrader of Canby. Both have won re-election in the decade since then.
Oregon is the only West Coast state where legislators still have primary responsibility for congressional and legislative maps. They are drawn by commissions in California and Washington. A coalition is seeking to qualify a commission measure for the 2022 ballot.
Link to proposed maps
Here's a link to the proposed maps for congressional, Oregon Senate and Oregon House districts:
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