Writings and observations

The challenge to the new Idaho redistricting plan led by Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs (joined in by a bunch of other jurisdictions) is in, and there’s been some review of it – and some support in places like the Twin Falls Times News editorial page. There is no perfect way to predict what the Idaho Supreme Court might do; it has a way of surprising on redistricting cases. But from here, the core argument before it doesn’t look especially solid.

The Times News describes it succinctly, and it goes like this. The parameters of a redistricting are bound by three sets of terms. There’s the U.S. Constitution, at the highest level, which requires (according to Supreme Court interpretations) adherence to the “one man, one vote” principle – meaning that districts should have as close as practical the same number of people (or at least electors). Second, there’s the state constitution, which has a similar requirement calling for as few counties as practical to be split. And third, there are a series of laws (and legal cases, which the editorial doesn’t make clear) which also have to be considered – things like maintaining communities of interest, not overtly benefitting specific parties or individuals, no overt gerrymandering, care not to disenfranchise certain minority groups (notably Indian tribes in Idaho’s case), and others.

The editorial: “If you accept the fact that a state law can never trump the state constitution, the map becomes a lot easier to draw. The current plan that was created by the redistricting commission carves up counties more times than they needed to be. This is where Loebs’ suit makes its stand, and it’s an approach we have a hard time arguing against.”

Maybe you already see the logical problem here.

If redistricting is simply a case of absolute trumps, then the state constitution need not apply at all. Rather, you adopt – as a matter of requirement – whatever plan you can draw that split’s Idaho’s population into 35 equally populated districts. Because, if Loebs’ trumping argument is right, then only “one man, one vote” comes into play. Anything else would dilute the mandate of the U.S. constitution.

As a matter of history, the courts haven’t looked at it that way. Reasonably and practically, they’ve allowed for a degree of give and flexibility in the system. As an informal guide, redistricters have found that courts will usually accept plans that have about a 10% or less deviation in population between the most and least populous districts. That means a number of plans could be considered reasonable and practical. That’s what allows us to even get to a consideration of what the state constitution says.

The same principle seems to apply to splitting counties. If you split too many counties, that could be a basis for rejecting a plan. But how many is too many? Consider this from the reapportionment commission’s report on its plan:

a. 1 county has a population that it can constitute a single district by itself without combining with any other county or portion of another county. It is Bingham County.Bingham County occupies a unique position within Idaho because it is surrounded by counties that must either be split or combined with other counties and contains a portion of a Native American Reservation, the remainder of which is located in three other counties (Power, Bannock, and Caribou).   
b. Two counties could be divided into districts wholly within that county that meet the one person/one vote requirement without having to combine any portion of that county with any other county or portion of another county. They are Ada County
and Kootenai County.
c. Four counties are of such population that one or more districts can be created solely within the county, but a portion of the county must be combined with other counties to meet the one person/one vote requirements.  They are Bannock County,
Bonneville County, Canyon County, and Twin Falls County.
d. The remaining counties are so sparsely populated that they must be combined with other counties to create districts of sufficient population to comply with the federal constitutional requirement of one person/one vote. One of these counties
(Bonner) must be divided and combined with contiguous counties because one neighboring county (Boundary) is not contiguous to any other county.”

There is no way, in other words, to split fewer than five counties in crafting a plan, the commission said. It could do that (which seems to be where Loebs is headed). But are the current plan’s 11-county splits (of 44 counties, remember) really too many – if it means you rapidly start throwing out all the other considerations a redistricting plan should include? It seems here, probably not.

There’s some gray area, as so often the case in this mathematical-based exercise. But the Supreme Court may wind up considering this as well: If it gives such strong primacy to a plan that places such strong emphasis on just one reapportioning goal, it’s apt to generate more lawsuits on the basis that others were not considered. And lawsuits on those kinds of bases have worked, from time to time, as well.

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Chris Carlson
Carlson Chronicles

Let’s get back to facts and forget informed opinion in the discussion that has arisen of late around just who is Idaho’s greatest governor.

Out of deep respect for the good, great former governor of Idaho, I bit my tongue during Cecil Andrus’ disavowal of my book’s title during the opening of the Nov. 10 Boise City Club forum. His modesty is sincere. His sense of history though is flawed. The vast majority in the audience, as well as across this state, concur with the assessment expressed by the title as do most other serious students of Idaho history.

Even at the age of 80 the zeal and skill with which Andrus skewered the Idaho Republican party for harboring scoff-laws like tax-dodging, state timber stealing Rep. Phil Hart of Coeur d’Alene, drunk-driving and car stealing Sen. John McGee of Caldwell, borrowing-his-association’s-funds party chairman Norm Semanko of Eagle, to ridiculing Tom Luna’s replace-teachers-with-a-computer phony educational reform was a thing of beauty to behold.

He brought the house down with zinger after zinger, speaking candidly, forcefully and passionately. His ability to use a memorable phrase, such as my “wood butcher” friends, referring to Idaho’s timber industry, charmed the sold out forum. He added he could call the industry that because they knew he’d grown up in the “slab, sliver and knothole” business. When he finished his near 55-minute performance he received a standing ovation from the almost 400 standing room only guests.

According to moderator Marty Peterson, who has attended most Forums since it was founded in 1994, it was the first standing ovation he’d ever seen at the conclusion of anyone’s presentation. Governor Andrus virtually made my case.

There can be no serious argument. With the possible exception of Governor Dr. C.A. Robins (1947 to 1951), no other governor, not even three-term governor Robert E. Smylie, has come close to achieving the record of enacting policies and legislation which has had a more beneficial impact on the lives of all Idahoans. From the funding of kindergartens to the adoption of local land-use planning, to the consolidation of various state agencies, to appointment to boards and commission, to property tax relief for senior citizens, to increased support for higher education, to instilling a deep sense of pride in the person representing the state, no other governor has a record that begins to match that of Governor Andrus.

Spokesman-Review blog writer Dave Oliviera, who covers better than most issues of import to the inland northwest, asked his thousands of readers recently to respond to the question of who was the greatest. Over 600 responses quickly flowed in and it was no contest. Over two thirds said Andrus. That was 66 percent of the respondents. Phil Batt, no doubt a good governor (but great?), ran second with 5 percent.

Overlay this record as governor with what Andrus accomplished for Idaho when Secretary of the Interior. Idahoans have not forgotten the establishment of the Birds of Prey, the expansion of the Nez Perce National Historic Park, the reforms to grazing practices in the passage of the BLM Organic Act, the adoption of amendments to the 1902 Reclamation Act.

The list goes on of actions that benefited Idaho specifically not to mention Idahoan interest in the protection of the crown jewels of Alaska, the establishment of urban national parks, the designation of new wild and scenic rivers, and more.

Governor Smylie’s son, Steve, rose to defend his father’s legitimate claim to such a title, and rightfully so for during his three consecutive terms (1955 to 1967) he did accomplish much, but not as much as Andrus. By the end of his 12-year tenure Smylie had so alienated many friends and supporters with an arrogance no one would ever accuse Andrus of having that Republican primary voters rejected Smylie’s bid for a fourth term and nominated a virtually unknown state senator from Sandpoint, Don Samuelson, to be their 1966 standard-bearer.

The book demonstrates through stories, anecdotes and observations that Andrus is arguably as a matter of objective record, the greatest governor Idaho has ever produced and for all time will ever produce.

Marty Peterson and Randy Stapilus are compiling a book due out next year naming the 100 most influential people in Idaho history. I’ll wager anyone a box of my apples that their examination of the record of any would be pretenders will in the end lead them to the inevitable conclusion that not only is Cecil Andrus the greatest governor in Idaho history, he is also the most dominating and influential person to ever have called this great state home.

A native of Kellogg, a former teacher at Kootenai, and a former journalist, Chris Carlson served as press secretary to former Idaho Governor Cecil D. Andrus for ten years. He is the founding partner of the Gallatin Group, is now retired and he and his wife, Marcia, reside at Medimont.

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