Writings and observations

OR remap: Washington County conundrum

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Redistrict hearing at the Portland Community College campus at Rock Creek. (photo/Randy Stapilus)

Washington County, which has a bunch of legislative districts, will have more when redistricting is done. How that addition will be made, and how the current lines will shift, is wide open, though. And there are political implications, both because Washington has plenty of both Democrats and Republicans, and because some of the districts have some odd qualities.

Washington County, the suburban county west of and abutting Portland, is the biggest single wild card in Oregon politics: Its shift from majority Republican not so long ago to majority Democratic in recent elections has had a lot to do with the changing fortunes of the parties in the state. But the margins still aren’t enormous for anyone, and there are plenty of Republicans as well as Democrats. The exact contours of the legislative districts here will matter a lot after 2012 in a legislature now split nearly evenly.

The redistricting committees know it, too. The Senate redistricting chair (Democrat Suzanne Bonamici) and the two House co-chairs, Democrat Chris Garrett and Republican Shawn Lindsay) all are Washington County legislators; half of the House committee members and a third of the Senate members are from Washington. The fine points of redistricting in that county will not go untended.

And at present, there are some peculiarities. If you drive north on Highway 47 from our home base of Carlton and about 11 miles on cross the line into Washington County, you encounter, the space of 15 miles or so along the road, the communities of Gaston, Dilley, Forest Grove and Banks. You also pass through four Oregon House districts driving that distance.

One of those districts, as Senator Bruce Starr, R-Hillsboro, pointed out, runs from Gaston to Newburg to Keizer. An eastern Oregonian might sniff at that, in terms of raw square mileage; but this district (the senator is Larry George, R-Sherwood) includes at least three totally distinct community areas that have little to do with each other, an odd mashup from the perspective of anyone who lives there.

At today’s redistricting public hearing at a community college campus near Beaverton (more or less; it’s hard to be sure in that area whether you’re actually in the city of Beaverton or not), those concerns arose loudly, from a string of witnesses pouring in from North Plains, Gaston, Forest Grove and nearby points. Some made the complaint about the 1st congressional district that their rural regions have little in common with Old Town Portland, which is also in to the 1st; but then, congressional districts are big enough that they necessarily have include some varied terrain. (Garrett did offer the idea, likely to pick up some steam, that Portland ought to be in a congressional district of its own.) But most of the talk was about the legislative districts.

Figuring out which parts of the Beaverton/Hillsboro region ought to be kept together isn’t an especially easy task either. Witnesses pointed out that there’s a large Latino community in Hillsboro, and it’d be legally inadvisable to split it. Some argue that the Tanasbourne area (north of north of but between Hillsboro and Beaverton) should be kept together.

Representative Chris Harker, a Democrat attending the session though not a committee member, said he has a Portland mailing address and his nearby business has a Beaverton address, but both locations actually are in unincorporated Washington County. The question of linking west Portland with eastern Washington County came up repeatedly; a Beaverton Chamber speaker argued that Beaverton looks more toward the west, to the rest of Washington County, than it does east to Portland and Multnomah. Beaverton was described at one point as “patchy” and looking like a be-tentacled octopus, its boundaries very hard to describe.

But the “communities of interest” can be awfully slippery here. Senator Mark Hass, a Democrat also from the Beaverton area, pointed out that the Beaverton farmer’s market, the largest in Oregon, is one of many attractions across from Portland that draws people from all over; and he pointed out that the neighborhoods along the Multnomah/Washington county lines aren’t all that different. A number of speakers pointed out the heavy commuter traffic (most notably on the often-clogged Sunset Highway, U.S. 26) between Portland, Beaverton and Hillsboro. It’s not only heavy, but heavy in both directions, in morning and evening rush hours.

Another point made repeatedly was that a lot of people in the Portland area consider the Willamette River to be a truly major community divisor, between east and west Portland.

One other comment that no doubt got attention was one by Jeff Duyck, in 2008 a candidate for the Oregon House and winner of the party’s primary election. Duyck had registered and filed as a District 29 voter for years, and had gotten mail ballots from the county clerk to that effect, but a close check found that he was actually in District 26: In a weird development, the district line ran through the tax lot where he lived, and he was on the 26 side of it. So, having won his primary election, he was thrown off the ballot.

His comment to the committee: “Don’t cut [divide] tax lots.” he got no argument on that.

Perhaps the coastal range should be considered a general split between districts. There again, can it be? A Senate district has to include more than 120,000 people, and all of the Oregon coast counties taken together (exempting the slice of Lake County containing Florence) won’t reach to that.

Starr made the point that Larry George’ distict 13 runs from Gaston over to Newburg down to Keizer. It’s not a district that would throw legislators from east of the Cascades, but it’s surely an odd district from the perspective of the people in the area. The Gaston area has little to nothing to do with Newberg, and it has little to do with Keizer.

Bonamici also remarked on the upcoming schedule, that distribution of map proposals may start toward the end of April or early May, and decision-making time may come in the next few weeks after that.

One other note: The Rock Creek campus is a pretty location, but not a good one for this purpose. Parking was $3 – in effect, given the location, an entry fee to attend a legislative meeting – and the machines dispensing tickets either were variable in their functionality or highly counterintuitive. Easier access places in future, please …

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