Gone but not forgotten

“In five minutes, we don’t exist as a commission,” Chair Evan Frasure said. It felt a little surreal, as if an anti-bomb were ticking.

Another motion came up, and then the commissioners voted on C50, a Democratic-backed congressional redistricting plan. It failed on a tied 3-3 vote. (At no point, evidently, did any commissioner from either side break with their party.)

“And we are dissolved here in about three minutes,” Frasure said.

Frasure, who has been probably the most dominant figure on the commission (and was a major figure in the last two reapportionments), said that if the commission is called back by the Idaho Supreme Court, he may not be back, owing to health concerns. He and others said their goodbyes.

And then at 5 p.m. mountain, they turned into a pumpkin. More than two months of effort, review of more than 100 congressional and legislative map proposals (the highest-numbered legislative proposal was 82), came to an end. The commission’s deadline expired. Next, it gets sued for nonperformance, a case that goes to the Idaho Supreme Court.

The need for new congressional and legislative maps will not go away, of course, and now either the Supreme Court will draw its own maps or – more likely – call the commission back for another shot.

It has been an intensive, sometimes emotional and angry, effort. On the last day flashes of anger and accusation cropped up. (Frasure, for example, essentially accused the Democrats of “holding hostage” plans containing only minor differences between the sides.)

In the end, the differences were not enormous, but they were instructive: They seemed to center around those few areas of the state where Democrats are at least somewhat competitive.

A northern Idaho piece of the legislative plan seemed to have won support that was unanimous or nearly so, and did elegantly resolve the Moscow-Lewiston problem: Those two cities traditionally each have, intact, anchored a legislative district, but no longer have the population to do so as they once did. Lines were skillfully drawn keeping Lewiston whole and Moscow nearly so.

But arguments over the lines in Ada County proved less tractable. Democrats were pushing for proposals which would keep Ada County whole (Republicans submitted one that did so, in nine districts), but keeping as many competitive districts as at present is tougher. Democratic Blaine County was a problem area too, as Republicans and Democrats each wanted to match it up with a different collection of nearby Republican counties to form a districts. And the Pocatello area, and the southeast rural areas near it, led to lots of inconclusive back and forth.

The problem, of course, is that any single change reverberates around the rest of the map. Someone winds up getting nailed.

So, next stop: The courts.

ANOTHER THOUGHT So, in Northwest redistricting, we so far have the following results: In Oregon, the legislature produces maps with bipartisan support well ahead of deadline; the Idaho redistricting commission deadlocks on partisan lines and runs out the deadline. Washington’s (commission) up next.

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