Majority Democrats passed their plans for new congressional and legislative districts through the Oregon Senate on Monday, Sept. 20, the first day of a special session focused on redistricting after the 2020 Census.
But the plans ran into a political roadblock in the Oregon House, where minority Republicans and Democratic Speaker Tina Kotek — who has announced a bid for governor in 2022 — traded accusations of dealing in bad faith.
Kotek named two committees, instead of one, to deal with the plans separately.
The congressional plan in Senate Bill 881 went to a committee with two Democrats and a Republican, but the Republican boycotted the meeting. The Democrats moved it to the full House, which was expected to vote on it Tuesday, Sept. 21.
The legislative plan in Senate Bill 882 went to a committee with four Democrats and four Republicans. It included the six members who sat on an equally split committee from the 2021 regular session, plus the addition of one Democrat and one Republican. It advanced the Democratic plan to a vote of the full House with the support of the four Democrats and Republican Rep. Greg Smith of Heppner, who said, "I think we have a better opportunity for the 90 members," rather than the secretary of state, to craft a plan.
But Republicans, who number just 23 in the 60-member House, have held out the option of walking out.
House Democrats walked out during the 2001 regular session to forestall the Republican majority from passing redistricting plans via resolutions, which could not be vetoed by Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber. Republicans in both chambers eventually did pass plans through legislation, which Kitzhaber vetoed. The Supreme Court ruled later that the attempted legislative resolutions were out of order.
The Senate passed both plans on identical votes of 18 to 11 — all Democrats for, 11 Republicans and the lone independent against, and one Republican excused — and voted to adjourn. Under the Oregon Constitution, however, the Senate will have to return if the House is still in session. One chamber cannot adjourn for more than three days without the consent of the other.
If lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Kate Brown do not have plans in place by Sept. 27, legislative redistricting falls to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who is not bound by the Legislature's work. Congressional redistricting goes to a panel of retired judges named by the Oregon Supreme Court, which is the final arbiter of both plans.
The lines have to be redrawn after each 10-year census to account for population shifts and make districts nearly equal in population. Oregon gained a sixth U.S. House seat after the 2020 Census. The state grew by an average of 10.6%, but the three Portland metro counties accounted for a growth rate of 12% — 13.3% in Washington County — and Deschutes County in Central Oregon grew by more than 25%. Meanwhile, population growth lagged in most of Oregon east of the Cascades and south of the Willamette Valley, except in the Rogue Valley.
There were a number of starts and stops during the first day of the special session, which Brown called. Although both houses convened Monday morning, the House did not reconvene until more than an hour after the Senate finished voting.
Several House Republicans accused Democrats of breaking the compromise that broke a political logjam during the 2021 session. Under the tacit agreement, Kotek added a Republican and elevated a GOP member to be co-leader of the House redistricting panel. Republicans in turn dropped their insistence on a constitutional requirement (usually waived) for every bill being read aloud before a final vote.
"We've been cheated; we've been had," Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, a member of the legislative redistricting panel, said.
"I now realize that all along, the plan was in fact to get gerrymandered maps through no matter what," GOP Leader Christine Drazan of Candy said.
Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, a Republican from Albany who lost her co-leadership position on the House panel, said she was boycotting the congressional panel.
"I won't contribute to an illegal partisan map by participating in this committee," she said.
But Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, said in a statement that Republicans were unwilling to negotiate despite numerous hearings during the 2021 regular session and 12 hearings after the parties unveiled their map proposals on Sept. 3. (Because of a delay by the U.S. Census Bureau in reading census-block data, legislators were unable to start drawing maps until a data release on Aug. 12.)
"No map is perfect, and this is a very complex task. Ultimately, we are bound to do our constitutional duty and the job Oregonians elected us to do," Kotek said in her statement. "Separate committees are the only path the House now has to fulfill its responsibilities. I am confident the maps passed by the Senate meet all statutory and constitutional requirements."
Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, and Rep. Andrea Salinas, a Democrat from Lake Oswego who leads both redistricting panels in the special session, said this afterward in a statement:
"The Legislature has the responsibility to pass a redistricting plan, and Speaker Kotek's leadership will make sure we can complete our constitutional obligation.
"The maps we're voting on are fair, legally sound, reflect population growth and census data and take into account the nearly 2,000 pieces of testimony we received from the public. We're ready to get this work done."
More often than not in recent Oregon history, others have had to step in and redraw lines. But a decade ago, the Legislature managed to approve congressional and legislative maps without legal challenges — the congressional map for the first time since 1981, which Oregon added a fifth U.S. House seat, and the legislative map for the first time since 1911.
Senate GOP resists
Senate Republicans, who account for 11 of the 30 senators, said the proposed Democratic map gave advantages to Democrats in five of Oregon's six U.S. House seats, including a new district that will stretch from southeast Washington County into Yamhill, Polk and Marion counties.
The current lineup in Oregon's U.S. House districts, which has existed since 1997, is four Democrats and one Republican.
Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend, the top Republican on his chamber's redistricting panel, said the map would worsen Oregon's urban-rural divide.
"When we had an opportunity to correct that, we didn't do it," he said.
Though Republicans complained about the map dividing Multnomah County three ways, Oregon's most populous county already was divided. A sliver of it is in the current 5th District, which then goes into Clackamas County, the Mid-Willamette Valley and the central coast. The rest is split at the Willamette River between the 1st and 3rd districts; that split has existed at least 50 years to give Portland two representatives.
Knopp and other Republican senators acknowledged that Democrats agreed to some changes in the legislative maps, despite a no-change stance on the congressional map. While they did not say so openly, they will have no say on legislative redistricting if Fagan assumes that task.
"There are some districts where we think wrong decisions have been made," Knopp said. "But I believe the Legislature needs to come up with some product."
NOTE: Corrects a statement by Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis about which redistricting committee she will not participate on.
Updates with House committee votes advancing both congressional and legislative plans to votes of the full House.
Link to redistricting maps:
The members of the special session committees in the Oregon House considering redistricting:
Congressional: Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, chair; Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha; Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany
Legislative: Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, chair; Wlnsvey Campos, D-Aloha; Paul Holvey, D-Eugene; Khanh Pham, D-Portland; Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles; Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany; GOP Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby; Greg Smith, R-Heppner.
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