Writings and observations

OR remap: Early steps

At the Oregon state Senate committee on reapportionment this morning, members convening for the first time were asked to talk a bit about their districts. (Chair Suzanne Bonamici said that when the committee on judiciary organized earlier, members did the same thing – often while eying her closely.) The comments were educational, from people who know those pieces of turf in fine grain.

Senator Jason Atkinson said much of his district, around the Grants Pass and Medford area, could be seen as “a string of small towns connected by some of the most famous rivers on the coast,” the Rogue and Illinois among them. Senator Chris Telfer spoke of moving to her Bend-centered district, which includes most of Deschutes County, and seeing it transition from a timber community then to one without a timber mill but with a fast-growing tourism sector. She and Bonamici, who represents a slice of west Portland and eastern Washington County, spoke of the fast growth of those places; Bonamici noted that one of the two House districts within her Senate district now by itself has more people than the Senate district represented by President Peter Courtney.

They’ll all have to learn some new turf after the committee’s work is done and, as Bonamici said, “most people will not be happy.” The immediate hammer hanging overhead is this: Most of the time, since such reapportionments started half a century ago, the legislature hasn’t succeeded in pulling together a plan that works, and the final maps have come from courts or from the secretary of state. The members were vowing that this time, they will get it done. It will be a challenge.

The process will be intensive. There will be no more meetings until after February 1, when the legislature returns, but the Senate and House committees likely will meet together a lot after that. “We want to work together with the House,” Bonamici said. (The House panel didn’t hold its organizational this week; a planned meeting was dropped.) Bonamici said that a decade ago, the reapportionment panel held 17 hearings around the state, somehow managing to make none of them overnight trips. The first couple of meetings this year will consist of orientation and backgrounding.

After that, the committee will be tested. And no one will be grading on the curve.

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