On this day when not one but two lawsuits - both aimed at doing the same thing, which is re-cranking the Idaho redistricting process - were filed at the Idaho Supreme Court, may be a good time to pause and ponder the question of partisan advantage. Just how much partisan advantage were the Republicans and Democrats on the just-disbanded Redistricting Commission really wrangling over?
Prompted in part by a tweet just up this afternoon from John Foster, the one time Walt Minnick campaign manager: "Dear Idaho Redistricting Commission Democrats: Take the ***ing deal! This map is GOOD for you."
He appeared to be referring to the congressional district plan C38, one of the Republican plans submitted, which creates two U.S. House districts which look a lot like those at present, with the same roster of counties in each district, and with Ada County split just a little differently (a few precincts bumped) to account for population differences.
And why not? Creative proposals were offered that would keep Ada intact - we drafted ad posted one ourselves, before the process even started - but they make no practical sense, butting together vast regions of eastern and northern Idaho that are divided by immense wilderness and mountain areas and historically have had nothing to do with each other. Of course Ada was going to be split; as a practical matter, it's what has to happen. And given the vast disparities between the two parties, neither Democrats nor Republicans gain a tremendous lot however the line is specifically drawn. Something fairly similar to C38 is almost certain to become law, one way or another.
The legislative plans (which didn't seem to be Foster's point) are a different matter. Because Republican majorities in the state are so strong, it would be possible (though it would take some genuine gerrymandering) for Republicans to eliminate Democratic advantages in any of the 35 districts. In their appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, the three Republican commission members touted four of their last legislative proposals: L68, L76, L77 and L82, as having notable merit. Let's take a look at L82, which was submitted in the commission's last hour Tuesday afternoon.
Critical to the Democrats are the places where they have been running competitively, if not always winning, in the last few cycles. Those would include: central Coeur d'Alene; Shoshone County; Moscow; Lewiston; the city of Boise; Blaine County; Pocatello; and debatably, central Idaho Falls. The small-population Indian reservations also are Democratic. Democrats would be disadvantaged when these areas are split up, diluted, between districts. Their problem is that these areas generally have not grown as fast as most of the rest of the state, making it harder to avoid dilution.
L82 keeps Shoshone County intact and maintains a central Coeur d'Alene district. It divides Moscow, but links one part of it to Shoshone and the Coeur d'Alene Indian Reservation, and the other part to Lewiston, which generally appears to be maintained intact. In Boise, Democrats have a strong majority in current District 19, which would be maintained in an analogous District 19. Three others (15, 16 and 18 in the proposed plan) could be competitive, which matches to the current three-district-competitive picture in Boise. Democrats could make out unexpectedly well so far under that plan.
Much of the last-minute debate at the commission on Tuesday concerned the eastern Idaho districts, and for good reason: This is where Democrats would have a tougher time. The Blaine County-based district, where for nearly 30 years Democrats have been competitive or (more recently) dominant, would be shaken up, with more conservative territory added to it. A review of the numbers suggests, though, that Democrats still could win there, though the margins would be much closer. And the hottest debate concerns Pocatello, which three decades ago anchored three Democratic districts, then two, currently one and debatably two, and under the new plan ... probably one, conceivably two, or maybe none - all the seats in the Bannock County area would be highly competitive. Pocatello itself would be split into three districts.
You can see why that might be a sticking point for the Democrats on the commission. But otherwise, this look at L82 also suggests that the two sides might not be all that far apart - as commission members kept insisting on Tuesday - and that Democrats might no do as badly even under Republican proposals as they might have.