Writings and observations

On the way out of Tillamook after a legislative redistricting hearing, I stopped for lunch at Main Street Pizza (near the cheese factory on the north side of town). The back of the menu said this was one two same-owner pizza places; the other was near the far end of a road I’d just traveled, at the small city of Banks.

That had an odd resonance: People had been spending the morning talking in considerable part about whether coastal communities like Tillamook (and Astoria, and others nearby) ought to be grouped together into as few legislative and congressional districts as possible, but together. The alternative view was that there are plenty of economic and other tie reaching inland, away from the coast. Wonder what the Main Street Pizza people would say about that?

On this rainy morning in Tillamook – is that redundant? – the people who showed up (about two dozen) for the legislative road show on redistricting mostly had the normal concerns: Don’t split our community; keep the coast intact … but as often happens, the problems of compliance have to do with the hard requirements. Such as the limited number of people in those areas, and the large numbers needed for congressional and legislative districts.

The hearing was held in Tillamook but by video (and there were some glitches) joined in Astoria, Lincoln City and Newport.

The majority view, upheld in testimony by the senator, Democrat Betsy Johnson, whose district runs from Tillamook County north to Astoria and along the Columbia past St. Helens and to the edge of Portland. “This district has a genuine feeling of community,” she said, and made a clear case for it. Told that her district is below the population level that will be needed for Senate districts in the new map, she had a ready answer for where to get the additional people: On the Portland outskirts, around Linntown.

Almost no point anyone could make came without its counters. A few people testifying railed at Portland and how its population diluted the districts occupied mostly by people in much more rural areas. One speaker from Astoria said that “sending these little fingers into Multnomah and Washington counties is unjust and unfair.”

A majority view seemed to call for concentrating representation on the coastal counties. (The coast is currently represented by three Senate districts, 1, 5 and 16, and about twice as many House districts.) “We have very unique interests here on the coast,” said one witness.

But there was a strongly-worded counterpoint. The coastal legislators have formed a Coastal Caucus who in recent sessions have become a fairly effective force for coastal issues in the Legislature. Would it be wise to cut the membership of the caucus? No clear conclusions emerged.

Nor on some other basic issues. One House district, for example, runs from just south of the Astoria city line to take in its next-door neighbor of Warrenton, and then south to Tillamook County; Astoria, and communities east nearly to Portland, are in another district. Astoria and Warrenton are all but one community (Astoria has the downtown, the restaurants and tourist center, and Warrenton and the big box stores.) Committee members asked: Is this split-up of Astoria and Warrenton a good or bad thing? Overall, people seemed to hedge. But one local speaker said the two-district approach is better: We effectively have twice the representation in the House than we otherwise would. Again, no definitive answers.

Next hearings, tomorrow: Eugene and Albany/Corvallis.

(A side note: This one was at the smallest community college in Oregon – one newly-built building – though the president said there’s room for two more, and some plan for expansion.)

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