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Redistricting will hit county hard

If you get Bill Kennemer's voicemail, his message will tell you that he's the Republican 'state representative for the Canby/Oregon City areas,' and that's how he's been known since he moved to the seat from the Board of County Commissioners in 2009. But he and other representatives of North Clackamas will see big changes following the Oregon's Legislature agreement to redraw district maps statewide.

Much impact of redrawing maps for the State Legislature fell squarely on Clackamas County, as many local voters will see different incumbent representatives on their ballots. Upcoming local elections may also be more competitive or lopsided as a result of the changes.

The plan that passed the Senate 27-3 and the House 47-10 last month marked the first time since 1981 that lawmakers have united on redistricting.

Kennemer, who lives halfway between Oregon City and Canby on Hwy. 99E, now lives at the edge of his district that essentially shifted out of Oregon City toward much of the area that has been the district of Patrick Sheehan (R-Clackamas) following the Clackamas Highway toward Estacada.

Kennemer acknowledged that redistricting is a politically-charged effort, but in the end he favored the cooperative spirit of House co-speakers Bruce Hanna (R-Roseburg) and Arnie Roblan (D-Coos Bay).

'I was delighted that the legislature was able to come together for the first time in a long time, and I wanted to support an overall outstanding job at redistricting that could have only happened with the 30-30 split down party lines, forcing us to live within our revenues and come to common-sense solutions,' Kennemer said.

In addition to covering ground familiar from his days as a county commissioner, Kennemer's 'delighted' to be getting a slight advantage on his party's voter-registration numbers, rather than the slight disadvantage he had previously.

But Sheehan said he's 'heartbroken by these enormous changes,' and was among those who voted against the plan. Sheehan's district will now cover a much larger portion of Southeast Portland (from 1,200 to 35,000 registered voters in Multnomah County) by ceding the Carver and Estacada areas to Kennemer.

Sheehan won the Clackamas County vote by 10 percentage points and lost the Multnomah County vote by the same margin.

Blistering population growth in Happy Valley meant that Sheehan's district had to geographically shrink overall. On the other hand, Portland and Milwaukie districts are growing more slowly than the rest of the metro area, so they will have to cover more ground in order to have the same population. Representative Dave Hunt (D-Gladstone) saw the only place they could push was to the south and east, where the 'unincorporated areas are easier to slice and dice' than the cities.

Hunt will shift 60 percent of his district south, taking Kennemer's acreage in Oregon City and giving Oak Grove back to Carolyn Tomei (D-Milwaukie), who is 'happy' to reclaim much of her territory before the secretary of state redrew the lines 10 years ago.

'It's tough to look at that and call it anything except for gerrymandering,' Sheehan said. 'They were kind enough to leave my residence in District 51, but the so-called citizen feedback they received was all a show because they had to throw two Republicans under the bus in order to keep it out of the Secretary of State Kate Brown's (a Portland Democrat) hands.'

Sheehan sees his cellmate as Jason Conger (R-Bend), whose district lost many of its rural and more conservative voters to the surrounding donut-shaped district that excludes Bend's city center.

Calling the recent redistricting a 'wonderfully open process,' Tomei is among Clackamas County representatives who disagree with Sheehan.

Speculation about political upheaval is possible with the county's major district changes. Former Oregon City Mayor Alice Norris ran against Kennemer last year, but if she had won, she'd now be faced with the prospect of running against Hunt. If Cheryl Myers of the North Clackamas School Board or another Democratic leader again ran for Sheehan's seat, odds would be less favorable now for the Republican side based solely on the party-registration numbers.

Even so, Sheehan hopes to win over registered Democrats, who outnumbered Republicans in his district by about 3.5 percent, an advantage that will more than double in the 2012 race with the redrawn map. The freshman representative thinks that many of the voters in the further reaches of Southeast Portland 'share the views of Clackamas residents that they don't want to be like Portland' in their priorities.

'I'll be campaigning in a different area, but I'm not going anywhere, and I want to assure voters that I'll still be doing my best to speak for all the voters in my new district,' Sheehan said.

It appears that current House representatives from Clackamas County will remain living in their new districts that become official in 2012. Around that time, Kennemer plans to begin campaigning again and change his voicemail to reflect his new territory.

Communities of interest

Hunt plans to cover redistricting among five major topics in upcoming town-hall meetings, including one on Tuesday, Aug. 9, at 6:30 p.m. at Willamette View, 12705 S.E. River Road in Oak Grove.

'There are several other areas that always pop up (such as) consumer protection, the environment and lots of areas where people have individual interest or want to talk about bills that passed or bills that were killed, but in terms of the biggest focus from the session was in those five areas: jobs and the economy, education, health care, public safety and redistricting,' he said.

Hunt, who was just replaced as party leader by Tina Kotek (D-Portland), said he's become accustomed to changing roles each session. When his new district becomes effective next year, he plans to run again on a platform of supporting career and technical education. For the first time in six years, the past session provided no community college capital construction funds, a trend Hunt also hopes to turn around.

He likes his new district for its inclusion of the communities of Jennings Lodge, Johnson City, Gladstone and Oregon City, while reuniting the Oregon City School District, which has a non-contiguous island in Jennings Lodge and is separated from Oregon City proper by the Gladstone School District. A special program pre-approves students from both districts to transfer to a school in the opposite district.

Gladstone and Oregon City also share a community of interest, Hunt believes, because of their proximity to the Clackamas River.

Federal law requires keeping 'communities of interest' together to protect minority voters and keep transportation corridors together. The laws don't give as much credence to county lines, allow lines to be drawn to benefit one party or to assure that a sitting lawmaker lives within the new boundary.

Oregon's 30 Senate districts will continue to mirror the borders of two adjacent Oregon House districts.

At the federal level, Oregon lawmakers recommended changes that will affect U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon City). Schrader will give up much of Southwest Portland and Beavercreek to U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

From Blumenauer, Schrader picks up Milwaukie, Mt. Scott, the Clackamas Town Center area and the western half of Happy Valley.