The first redistricting kerfluffle in Idaho emerged last week over a proposal that almost certainly will not come to fruition in the next ten years, but very likely will after that.
So it wasn’t a bad idea to raise, just to get people accustomed.
It emerged out of the meetings of Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission, which from all appearances so far seems to be operating as a cooperative and professional group. (Yes, it actually can happen.) As part of the early stages of the process, they’re developing a bunch of plans and throwing them out there, not with the idea that any one of them necessarily is under serious consideration, but simply to make all the options visible.
They’re working on plans for Idaho’s 35 legislative districts and its two congressional districts.
One of those congressional district plans generated headlines about “Ada and Canyon – together at last!” And that’s sort of what would happen.
Idaho has had two congressional districts since shortly after the 1910 census, and from that decade up to 1966, Ada County was placed in the second congressional district – along with eastern Idaho – and Canyon County was in the first – along with points north. The district lines hardly changed during all that time, mostly a reflection of how inexact reapportionment was in all those years.
A 1962 Supreme Court case, Baker v. Carr, slammed down on the many states (Idaho being one of many) that weren’t reapportioning properly, and in 1966 Idaho came up with new maps both on the legislative and congressional levels – really, the first proper reapportionment in the state’s history. In that new map, Ada County was bumped from the second to the first congressional district, which had an immediate political impact. Ada was more Republican then than it is now, and the first district went from Democratic to Republican control. (That was the real jump start for James McClure’s long congressional career.)
Redistricting soon got more precise. After the 1970 census, mappers concluded that Ada County should be split between the two districts, with part of eastern Ada County and Boise carved off for the second. It’s been that way ever since, the congressional district line shifting only slightly through the middle of Boise to account for variances in the population to the east and north. There’s been no serious attempt since to place all of Ada in one district again.
It’s possible, though, as the new options map shows. The population of Ada and Canyon now is such that you could place a string of counties including those two from the Oregon line east through Twin Falls, and that would have enough people for a congressional district. It would be compact and, on its own terms, could make sense. It would have a unifying strip along Interstate 84, and there’d be some community of interest.
The problem would be the remaining district, which would link northern Idaho with eastern Idaho – or, to put it another way, Bonners Ferry with Montpelier. The two big pieces of that district would have almost no practical road connection or community of interest (even if their politics these days are similar). Such a district would lead to understandable outrage through the east and north.
So that map is not going to happen this time.
However. When the 2030 census comes around, there’s a good chance Idaho will have just enough population for three congressional districts, for the first time ever.
When that happens, much of the population increase probably will be driven by the Ada-Canyon area, and a district based around southwestern Idaho will become very likely, alongside much bigger (geographically) districts to the north and east.
So drafting that Ada-Canyon map this time around may serve a purpose: It may get people ready for what a three-district Idaho may look like in another decade.