OPINION: Redistricting should be based on where, how people live
It is the obligation of the Legislative Assembly to use the existing building blocks of our democracy to create boundaries of representation in order to satisfy the requirements delineated in ORS 188.010.
In order to best create representative districts that represent the varied interests and demographics throughout our state we ought to use the existing building blocks of organizational and governmental lines: our school districts, library districts, water districts, cities, and counties. These are the building blocks that can successfully construct our state representative, state Senate, and congressional districts.
The way is clear for how to draw a district in order to encapsulate a prescribed number of people. ORS 188.010 directs the Legislative Assembly as follows:
"(1) Each district, as nearly as practicable, shall:
(a) Be contiguous;
(b) Be of equal population;
(c) Utilize existing geographic or political boundaries;
(d) Not divide communities of common interest; and
(e) Be connected by transportation links."
We should use the smaller, practical building blocks of previously determined districts and add more or larger adjacent districts as appropriate but we must not slice through the smaller organizational lines to make a favorable district for any partisan purpose.
The people are already organized. We must not let a partisan pencil draw lines. This has historically drawn lines antithetical to the existing governmental and representative structures.
In order to traverse the span of my own congressional district I have to touch two mountain ranges and travel through four distinct environments: the Oregon Coast, the Willamette Valley, the Tillamook State Forest and Mount Hood National Forest. This does not fit the condition of using geographic boundaries.
While my congressional district could be comprised of two counties, it instead cuts through parts of seven. This does not fit the condition of utilizing existing political boundaries.
One would expect the problems to resolve as we looked into smaller representative districts but discrepancies remain.
The representative and state Senate districts to which I belong, District 37 and District 19 respectively, include slivers of another county while ignoring adjacent areas of Clackamas County that are already connected by practical building blocks of representation.
I have sat across the table from fellow library board representatives from different adjacent library areas. Needs, goals, and plans are learned within these relationships and boards but rather than using those existing organizational structures my state representative district straddles two counties and the Interstate 5 corridor, while ignoring the representative and organizational relationships that are already in place.
These are communities of common interest, as noted in ORS 188.010, and yet we are divided.
The people are organized. Every day, they live and interact within these political and organizational boundaries. These areas are small and thus ideal for use as building blocks for larger districts. Our goal should be to use these blocks in order that the entirety of our representative structure is logical, effective, and representative.
The best way to achieve this goal is by independent commission. This allows the temperature of partisan fervor to subside and, when enacted by the Legislative Assembly, allows it to hold the responsibility given to them by choosing the mode and method of drawing lines.
Let us draw well, with our existing building blocks, that we may be represented well.
Aeric Estep is a West Linn resident. He lives in Oregon's Fifth Congressional District, represented by Kurt Schrader; Senate District 19, represented by Robert Wagner; and House District 37, represented by Rachel Prusak.
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