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Redistricting would divide Crook County

While the Legislature's plan will be completed June 30, it is sure to be changed and will probably end up being decided by the courts
Redistricting of the state legislature and Congressional districts is a once-every-10 years task. At the state level, the job starts with a special committee which reshapes the representative districts mandated by population change. The proposal being presented by the committee would have an impact on Crook County among others.
   Every ten years, based on new population numbers from the US census, all states must draw new boundaries, setting out legislative districts, both federal and statewide. The aim is to maintain a population balance in each district. According to the 2000 census, little change is expected in the Second Congressional District although Congressional representation boundaries for districts on the west side of the state are expected to go though some adjusting. The deadline for proposed redistricting of the state legislature is June 30. There is no set deadline for Congressional redistricting.
   At the state legislative level, in order to balance both the Senate and House districts, the latest proposal is to crop a portion of Powell Butte from the present districts and add that section of Crook County to Senate District 30 and House District 60 which have about the same boundaries as far as Crook County is concerned. These both include Lake, Harney, Malhuer and part of Klamath counties.
   Crook County Judge Scott Cooper responded to this proposal negatively and pointed out that under state statute, each district, as nearly as practicable, is not supposed to divide communities of common interest. Powell Butte, he explained, has little if anything in common with those more southern counties. According to the redistricting rules, each district is to be contiguous and follow existing geographic or political boundaries.
   "I want Crook County to be left intact," Cooper said. "How they do that I don't know, but we have enough to divide us without arbitrary boundaries."
   The proposed change would, he added, squeeze the districts currently represented by Sen. Ted Ferroli and Rep. Greg Smith.
   Ideally, the new boundaries are created to make sure representation in the Legislature follows existing geographic and political boundaries. The communities are connected by transportation links and not, as the statute states, "drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator or other person."
   One of the first factors taken into account by the commission is population. Following the 2000 census, it was determined that the target population count for each House districts would be 57,023 people and for Senate districts, which would take in two House districts, 114,047. The present head count for Rep. Smith's House District 59, which includes Crook County, is almost 3,000 shy of that target figure. Senate District 28, Sen. Ferrioli's district, is nearly 5,000 under the target number.
   Smith agreed with Cooper. "I have reservations about separating Powell Butte from the rest of the county," Smith said. "The county court judge made it clear and my job is to represent and support the county. I'm going to respect the Crook County Court and have my comments reflect their comments."
   The final redistricting map hasn't been drawn yet, he explained, and there's is a chance that bigger changes than losing Powell Butte to another district could be in the works.
   "The entire county could be pulled into the district with Deschutes County. Right now, Prineville's growing population has a big political impact (in District 59), but if added to Deschutes County, it's voice wouldn't be so strong."
   Another split off in Smith's current district is also bothering him. The commission's plan has Baker County removed from District 59 and added to another district. The freshman legislator pointed out that the commonality of Baker, Wasco and Crook counties resource based economies could be at stake.
   However, Smith said he believes the commission's proposal will not be accepted by the governor and will be vetoed. "The Secretary of State will draw up his own map and I imagine it'll be vastly different. I expect this will end up before the state Supreme Court."
   People should realize, Smith added, that this is the most important piece of legislation to come out of Salem this year. Redistricting will shape the way the state legislature will be for the next ten years.
   The deadline for completion of a legislative redistricting plan by the Legislative Assembly is June 30. If no agreement is reached or the Governor vetoes the legislature's work, then the job falls to the Secretary of State.
   A series of public hearings were held earlier this year by the commission. The closest hearing was in Bend on March 30. Anyone wishing to comment on the proposed redistricting, or learn more about the process, can access the Legislature)s website, www.leg.state.or.us/ A comment opportunity is available on that web page.