Writings and observations

OR remap: And Clackamas to the south

If Washington County is the largest pivot in Oregon electoral politics, Clackamas County to its southeast – and, roughly, south of Portland – would be the secondary pivot. It is more Republican than Washington County, but its voting base – the third largest in Oregon – is closely enough balanced that it’s a major target for political strategists. Its legislative districts are closely enough balanced that they’re also often battlegrounds. Ad it is a growth county – changes will happen.

The reapportionment hearing here this afternoon drew an audience of 50 or so in addition to the legislators, some locals, plus the committee members. Most of them spoke.

Representative Bill Kennemer, the Republican from District 39 (which includes Oregon City, where today’s hearing was held) and also a former Clackamas County commissioner, suggested that in some ways Clackamas has been “regarded as the stepchild in the urban area”, its legislative districts interstiched with Multnomah County. (Similar arguments came up about Washington County on Friday.) But he did say that his own district, centered on Oregon City and Canby, has a distinct internal community of interest.

Not all of the areas of Clackamas fit in. A speaker from the Wilsonville Chamber of Commerce pointed out some relevant anomalies about it: Fast population growth (almost 40% in the 00s) but also that much of the business development has been apart from the population base. It’s a very different kind of place than Oregon City or Canby, which are not far away. To what should it be linked – Tualatin and Sherwood, or somewhere else? The Wilsonville speaker said that there are contacts with Washington County even closer, in some ways, than to the rest of Clackamas (though a piece of Wilsonville is in a far-flung part of Washington). The connection to Sherwood and Newberg are fairly tight, he suggested. (The city of Wilsonville is split between both two House and two Senate districts.)

That led Representative Chris Garrett, D-Lake Oswego, to muse about the difficulty of using any one standard as the basis for drawing lines. County lines are often considered important boundaries, but they may not be the most important in all cases.

Representative Patrick Sheehan, a Republican representing a large chunk of the fast-growing northeast Clackamas area (Damascus, part of Happy Valley), noted that the communities in his area are often split by lines, and asked an attempt be made to keep them together. But he also noted that the parts of the district that bump up against Portland are a lot different from the newly-growing areas of unincorporated Clackamas.

Not everyone drew the lines and distinctions the same way. Jill Thorn of Lake Oswego said that “Clackamas County is not an island. We are part of the metro area, though it is a very diverse area.” Look at what the districts have in common, not in which county the area is located. (Seems here that the split of Lake Oswego and West Linn, which invisibly bump up against each other and have common transportation and other links, into separate legislative districts makes little sense. But some speakers see very distinctive differences between them and argued they’d best be kept apart.)

And a speaker from Tualatin said that linkages there are much stronger with communities to the west – Sherwood, Tigard – than those along I-5 like Lake Oswego or Wilsonville.

Another interesting idea arose: Keeping some unity for informal areas. There is a region, south of the Lake Oswego-West Linn area, called the Stafford Triangle – a partially developed region which retains a rural feel. What should be done with it – develop it or keep it more or less as it is? Whatever the choice, the decision will be made with the involvement of the communities around it (those two, Wilsonville, Canby). Should those areas be kept together?

Few seemed particularly to want to just be lumped in with Portland, though. A fair amount of knowing laughter, for example, for one speaker: “Let Portland keep themselves weird,” said one.

But even that was not unanimous: One couple in northern rural Clackamas felt kinship to southeast Portland, and wanted districts that linked to that area. “We head north from where we live, and most of our friends are in the Portland metro area.”

There won’t be any pleasing everybody.

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