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Remap, around the bend

Idaho and Washington both took the wise step, in time for the last go-round, of turning over the job of reapportioning state legislative and congressional districts to an independent commission, in time for the 2000 census remap. And while some glitches may have arisen in those processes – okay, some agony as well – the end result worked. And there is this: It worked out better than if legislators had done it.

In Oregon, the last reapportionment was such a fiasco that the legislature failed completely to reapportion itself, and the job went to one man, the secretary of state, who – inevitably – holds office as a partisan official and consequently has some responsibility to his party. (Republicans have been unhappy about the results of that ever since.) But an Associated Press piece today outlines the options Oregon legislators have for doing it differently next time.

Scott Bruun
Scott Bruun

The central proposal, House Joint Resolution 33, comes from state Representative Scott Bruun, R-West Linn, who has backing from 28 colleagues, and which works so hard to be fair to both parties that even the convolutions of forming its commission can be a little hard to follow. (The AP piece covers the details; we won’t try to retrace them all here.) Still, it does seem even-handed, fair and holds the promise of an improve way of performing an inherently messy task; several Democrats as well as Republicans are among its sponsors. (There are alternative proposals, too, including one, House Joint Resolution 41, sponsored by the Senate and House Republican leaders.)

This will constitute a test, though, for the people who now run the legislature. In 2001, Republicans had the legislative majorities when time came for reapportionment, but the battles over the lines were so rough that the legislature wasn’t able to get a remap enacted, and (by statute) the job went to the secretary of state. (Not for the first time, either.) Now, Democrats run the legislature, and have the governorship as well, and the secretary of state’s office (and recent history suggests they will retain it after the next election). From their perspective: Why turn over the mapmaking to someone else when they can draw their own lines instead?

And there will be consequences to those lines. Oregon is closely enough slip between the parties that control of, say, the House could ride on those numbers. Too, Oregon may pick up a U.S. House seat after 2010, and which party wins it could be determined by where, exactly, it is located.

It’s never easy to cede even a bit of power.

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