Redistricting should add clout to Washington, Clackamas counties
Jonathan Schlueter, executive director of the Westside Economic  
Alliance, told redistricting committee members that Washington County is growing faster than any other part of the region.

Don't look now, but Washington County is catching up to Multnomah County as the region's housing and employment center - and that growth will have real political consequences when state legislative boundaries are redrawn this year.

'Washington County is going to gain clout, no doubt about it,' says Jonathan Schlueter, executive director of the Westside Economic Alliance, a membership organization representing businesses in Washington and western Clackamas counties.

More people still live in Multnomah County. But according to the U.S. Census Bureau, Washington County's population grew significantly faster between 2000 and 2010 - 18.94 percent, compared with 11.33 percent for Multnomah County.

In fact, Washington County added more people than any other county in the state during the past 10 years. If this trend continues, Washington County will be the largest county in Oregon by 2035, according to the state Office of Economic Opportunity.

More people still work in Multnomah County. But a 2010 study by the ECONorthwest consulting firm shows that Multnomah County lost more than 26,000 private sector jobs between 1997 and 2009. In contrast, Washington County gained more than 21,000 private sector jobs in that time.

The trend is continuing as the economy improves. According to WorkSource Oregon, the state employment department, Washington County has gained more than 5,500 jobs this year, compared with around 3,200 in Multnomah County.

'Washington County is turning into the economic engine of the state,' Schlueter told a legislative redistricting committee that met in Portland on Friday, April 8.

The committee will soon propose new legislative boundaries based on the 2010 Census figures. It also will redraw the lines for Oregon's congressional districts.

New Census figures show 735,334 people living in Multnomah County, compared with 529,710 in Washington County and 375,992 in Clackamas County. But because Washington County grew faster than the statewide average of 12 percent since 2000, redistricting should increase its legislative representation at the expense of Multnomah County. Clackamas County could lose, too, because its growth rate was 11.1 percent.

'Any place that grew faster than the state as a whole will gain representation. Any place that grew slower than the state will lose representation. That's a mathematical certainty, given you can't create any more (legislative) districts,' says Charles Rynerson, a research faculty member of the Population Research Center in the College of Urban and Public Affairs at Portland State University.

Moving to suburbs

Although it is too early to know for sure, the city of Portland could lose legislative seats. The city's population increased 10.3 percent between 2000 and 2010. That is not only lower than the statewide average, but also less than most other cities in the region.

For example, within Multnomah County, Wood Village's population increased 35.6 percent, Fairview grew by 18 percent, Gresham by 17.1 percent, and Troutdale by 15.9 percent. In Washington County, Sherwood's population increased 54.3 percent, Hillsboro grew 30.5 percent, Beaverton was up 18 percent and Tigard grew 16.5 percent. In Clackamas County, Happy Valley increased 207.7 percent, Oregon City grew by 23.7 percent and West Linn grew 12.8 percent. Wilsonville, which is in both Washington and Clackamas counties, saw its population increase by 39.4 percent.

Although Portland's growth rate was lower than the statewide average, it fared better than most major American cities, some of which lost population during the past 10 years.

'Portland is actually doing better than a lot of American cities. But for quite some time, the trend has been people moving to the suburbs,' says Dennis Yee, an economist for Metro, the regional government.

According to Rynerson, several factors account for Washington County's faster growth rate. They include lower housing costs and school districts with good reputations, both of which attract young families.

'On average, each household has more people in it than in Multnomah County,' Rynerson says.

Washington County also has succeeded in recruiting a number of large employers during the past two decades that in turn have attracted job-seekers. They include high-tech giants Solar World and Intel.

'To the extent possible, people move to where the jobs are,' Rynerson says.

Boundaries for seats on the Metro Council and Multnomah County Board of Commissioners also must be redrawn in this year's redistricting process. Although changes are expected to be small, they will reflect the growth in Washington and east Multnomah counties.

Target numbers

By law, the Oregon Legislature must redraw congressional and legislative boundaries every 10 years, based on the latest U.S. Census numbers. The boundaries must be drawn so that each congressional and legislative district has the same number of residents. The number of congressional districts can increase if the state population grows enough.

New Census figures show that the state grew from 3.42 million to 3.8 million between 2000 and 2010, an increase of 12 percent. As a result, the target number for each new congressional district is 776,215 people. The target number for each Oregon House district is 63,851 people. The target number for each state Senate district (a combination of two House districts) is 127,702.

Because of the population growth, no congressional and only a handful of legislative districts have the right number of people.

The Legislature must complete its work by July 1. The task has been assigned to Senate and House committees on redistricting.

They have not yet released any maps for public comment. Although the committees have held a series of joint hearings around the state, including several in the Portland region, they have been largely informational in nature.

The new boundaries do not have to follow any other jurisdictional lines, including city, county or school district boundaries. On the other hand, state law sets forth several requirements that must be met. For example, the districts must be contiguous, connected by transportation links, not be drawn to favor a particular party or incumbent, and not divide 'communities of interest,' which are considered to be people with common characteristics or interests.

The serious negotiations will begin when the first redistricting maps are released in coming weeks. If the Legislature cannot agree on a redistricting plan or Oregon's governor vetoes the plan, the job falls to the Oregon Secretary of State. That happened in 1991 and again in 2001.

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