Drafting new legislative districts will have major impact on county
- Bill Sheehy
- Central Oregonian - News
The importance of lines being drawn on the Oregon map will be evident when its legislators once again start making decisions in Salem. The final redistricting plan will have an impact on things for the next ten years.
>Elected leaders were unable to agree so a high-ranking state official will have his turn at deciding the boundaries of those elected leaders in the decade to come
Everyone with a viewpoint on how those lines should be drawn is invited to attend a public hearing in Bend this weekend. Both Crook County Judge Scott Cooper and County Clerk Dee Berman understand the importance of the final plan and expect to attend that hearing to share their views.
The public hearing is one of 21 that Secretary of State Bill Bradbury has scheduled around the state. Every ten years, the Oregon Constitution requires the secretary of state draw new district lines for state senate and representative districts if the legislative body fails to do so by July 1. Because they were not able to agree on a redistricting plan before that deadline, the responsibility falls to Bradbury.
The process for drafting district lines has been defined by state statute and feedback from citizens. Each district, as nearly as possible, shall be contiguous, be of equal population and follow existing geographic or political boundaries. Other criteria calls for communities not to be divided and to be connected by transportation links.
The importance of contiguity, common interest and relative accessibility were outlined in a letter from the county court to the original redistricting committee.
Crook County's destiny seems primarily to be tied to those of other counties located along highway 26, the letter stated. "In particular we would be well matched in a district that included Jefferson, Wasco, Wheeler, Grant and Baker counties."
The concern expressed in the letter mentioned proposed boundaries that tied Crook County with Deschutes County. As the letter states, "While we have many common interests, we (the court) fear the disparity between the size of our populations, by which Deschutes County enjoys a 4-1 advantage."
The last proposal made by the legislative committee, called the Republican plan, would have split a portion of Powell Butte from the rest of Crook County and attached it to a district made up of Klamath, Lake and Harney counties. Each of these counties has much to offer, the court stated, but the lack of major transportation corridor connecting them to Crook County would be a problem, Also, the court pointed out, "the remoteness of population centers from one another does not lend itself to creation of a community of interest."
That plan was dropped when the legislative body could not agree and the job was handed to Bradbury. When inviting everyone to one of the hearings, he said his process would be open and give as many Oregonians as possible the opportunity to voice their concerns. The single hearing for our region will take place next Wednesday, July 25, at the city hall in Bend. That meeting is set to begin at 7 p.m.
Earlier this week Bradbury made public his initial proposed redistricting plan. Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said that like the failed Republican proposal, Bradbury's version would also divide Crook County into two separate house and senate districts
" Bradbury's plan, on the other hand," Cooper explained, "keeps western Crook County (primarily Prineville and Powell Butte) in a district with the northern half of Deschutes County (excluding the city of Bend), and puts the eastern part of the county in a district with Jefferson, Wasco, Wheeler, Sherman, Gilliam and Morrow Counties.
Rather than simply slice off a portion of Powell Butte to add to a southeastern Oregon district, the new plan gets more complex.
"As best I can tell," Cooper continued, "the boundary between the east and west districts is the paved, eastern section of Mill Creek Road, south to highway 126, west to Combs Flat Road, then south to Paulina highway, then south to Prineville Reservoir, then along the reservoir to where it joins Highway 27, then south to the county line."
This plan is slightly better than the Republican Plan, Cooper says but adds that it still doesn't meet the county court's primary objective of keeping the county together as a single voting unit.
That was the point made by County Clerk Berman in a letter she wrote to legislators working on the Republican Plan. Crook County is, she advised those attempting to set the new district boundaries, unique in the fact that it has only one incorporated city and two outlying rural areas.
"The ability to pass law enforcement levies and the years of struggle to create something as vital as a rural fire district are just two examples," she wrote, of the challenge of trying to make local political change under these conditions.
"I wonder," she asked, "if the legislators elected to represent us would be willing to drive the added distance and make that extra effort to give Crook County fair representation. I believe if we are split ... we will be forgotten by most."
Bradbury's draft plan represents his best effort to comply with the law and respond to public testimony already given in hearings held by the Legislature. With that plan in hand, he asks for more public input. The draft is his first effort and, after holding the series of hearings, will create a final plan. That is expected to be completed by mid August.
The final plan will more than likely be challenged in court which will then create its own plan. That plan will, for the most part, be based on information gathered during each of the previous attempts. By law, a final redistricting plan must be in place by Dec. 15.
Bradbury's draft plan can be seen on the Secretary of State website, www.sos.state.or.us/redistrict/ Comments can be made online at that website, also.
Written comments may be mailed to: Secretary of State, Redistricting Office, State Capitol Room 136, Salem, OR 97310. Comments can also be faxed to (503)986-1616.