The most remarkable thing about both the Republican and Democratic Idaho legislative redistricting plans is this: Both of them are willing to throw a lot of current legislators overboard, and by no means just those of the opposing party.
By that, you have to mean – since every Idahoan, and every legislator, will continue to live in a district – that a number of districts will have as residents more legislators than there will be seats to accommodate them. The Republican plan would put 41 legislators (of 105 total) in districts with too many fellow incumbents and not enough seats; the Democratic would do that to 32. In the Republican plan, 32 Republicans would be be put in that position, and in the Democratic, six Democrats. (There are, remember, a lot more Republicans than Democrats in the Idaho Legislature.)
Compare that to past Idaho redistricting efforts, when the number of bumped legislators could usually be counted on your fingers. Or to the new Oregon redistricting plan, that created this kind of discomfort for no legislators at all.
The Idaho commission appears to have taken seriously the injunction to not use redistricting to protect legislators.
Beyond that, a few other notes about the two proposals.
The Republican plan (L34) has some real aesthetic appeal. Often, Idaho has had legislative districts stretching north to south from north-central Idaho – from the edge of Shoshone County – all the way to the outskirts of Boise. The Republican plan, remarkably given the light population in the region, avoids that, and to a greater degree than at present keeps the state’s natural regions intact.
There are two major exceptions. The smaller is the union of Elmore County east through Gooding County to Twin Falls County. That one looks odd on the map, and seems counter-intuitive given Elmore’s usual identification with southwest Idaho rather than the Magic Valley. But Elmore is really a transitional county, on the margins of the Magic Valley. And most of the population of those three counties runs near Interstate 84, which would pass right through the heart of the district. It would be a new kind of creation as a district, but there’s some real logic to it.
More debatable is the realignment of the central Idaho mountain counties, breaking Custer, Butte, Clark and Lemhi from their traditional tie to Jefferson County. Instead, they would be united with Blaine, Camas and Lincoln. You can see some Republican appeal here: This realignment would end the solidly Democratic Blaine-centered district, turning it possibly competitive or possibly to a Republican lean. The sheer immense size of the district, though – running over remote mountains and obscure highways from not far from Yellowstone to not far from Boise – might work against it. It would unite two distant parts of two distinct Idaho regions, the northern Magic Valley and the northeastern East Idaho.
The Democratic plan also does something different with the central mountain region, and it seems even harder to defend. It retains the core of the current Blaine-centered district (probably continuing Democratic control there), but uniting in one district a string of counties running from the Wyoming/Montana border, through Salmon and Challis west to Mountain Home, Idaho City and Horseshoe Bend – literally a few miles north of Boise, close to southern Idaho’s Oregon border. Representing it would be like representing a congressional district (like one of Idaho’s). It also effectively continues in place the district that is now Idaho’s most unfortunate, stretching from the southeast corner of the state though uninhabited territory up to Bonneville County.
And then there’s the matter of District 2, which would run from west of Sandpoint through lightly-populated areas to south of Riggins. It too would be a monster to represent.
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