On the four-way split screen (accessible through the Oregon Legislature’s Hearing Room C cam), Lake County Commissioner Ken Kestner was responding to a reapportionment-pertinent question: Does Lake County look more to, and communicate, trade and deal more with, and have more in common with, the larger communities to the west (Klamath Falls, Medford) or to the north (around Bend)?
His answer was logical, doubtless accurate, and also confounding.
Lake County, which has just 8,000 or so people but a immense land area, has two more-or-less population centers of comparable size. One, in the south near the California border, is Lakeview, and its people look mainly to Klamath Falls and Medford. The other, more spread out, is in a group of communities in the north of the county, and it looks toward Bend.
Combine the community-of-interest priority together with another, to keep counties intact where practical, and you have a conflict. And no one in the eastern counties where the legislative redistricting committees are focused today – in a hearing at LaGrande this morning and a later one today at Burns (with video participation from other eastern counties) – wanted counties split. No one wanted to be like the John Day area – a small community split between two legislative districts (50 and 60).
The legislative redistricting committees, separate Senate and House panels holding hearings together around the state, have the job of squaring the circle. In this first road hearing (after the tsumani-forced cancellation at Tillamook last week) the questions and answers were a little general, befitting a process still trying to find its way. One witness noted that it’ll be easier to comment, in some ways, once plans are actually drawn, than it is now.
Testimony was light, under a half-dozen people in LaGrande (where the mayor and university president were on hand for greetings), and fewer than that in Pendleton, Baker and Lakeview (the county commissioner was alone there).
Still, some educational points were made.
Several speakers made the emphatic point that, in the northern part of eastern Oregon, Interstate 84 is the critical conduit and connecting link. They generally made a point of setting themselves off from the Bend area; that, they said, is central Oregon, not eastern Oregon (as many Portland-centric people would have it). And they do not feel much of a commonality of interest with it. From La Grande, speakers said, people heading out of town for goods or services might hit the Tri-Cities or Boise (both out of state), but not Bend. But the eastern area sounds internally knit together. People in LaGrande said they felt comparably connected to Pendleton and Baker, and those in Baker said the same about LaGrade and Ontario. The I-84 corridor seems to tie tightly.
This is an area that will change in its legislative districting. Several eastern Oregon counties lost population, and the current House District 57 (which includes Union County) is short about 6,100 people of the new required state average for House districts – it will have to add territory from somewhere. In fact, the east overall probably will have to, which may make some meetup with Bend inevitable, even if not especially wanted.
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