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Posts published in “Day: September 27, 2021”

The sixth district


The Oregon Legislature, after fits and starts - you can take that in several ways - has approved redistricting maps for the next decade, and the most consequential of these is the reapportionment of the U.S. House districts. (Signature by Governor Kate Brown still awaits, but that seems not to be in doubt.) Just ahead of an election where partisan control of the House will be closely and tightly fought, as it appears now, control of every seat is critical.

Oregon is one of those states getting a new, additional, U.S House seat. Its current delegation includes, as it has for many years, four Democrats and one Republican. So which party will control the District 6?

Backing up a little: Of the six districts, three will not change really drastically, at least not in partisan lean. District 1 (in northwest Oregon) will shrink in geographic size in its Portland to the coast reach, but it will remain heavily Democratic. District 2, in eastern Oregon, will lose Bend and Hood River but pick up territory around Grants Pass and west of Medford; it will stay about as Republican as it is now (heavily). District 3, which long has had the largest chunk of Portland, retains most of that and eases east to Hood River, and will remain a deep shade of blue. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D), Cliff Bentz (R) and Earl Blumenauer (D) remain in sterling shape for re-election if they run again.

There was a little more action in District 4, which in weighing partisan support has been one of the closest in the country - in 2016, in fact, it was the closest congressional district in the country in the contest between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. Democrat Peter DeFazio has won there for decades in part on his own strength. He must be delighted with the new map, which loses some of very Republican Josephine County and picks up Democratic Lincoln County; his position abruptly got stronger.

The more interesting action came in the remaining two districts, the old District 5, which has been represented by Democrat Kurt Schrader, and the brand new 6th.

The revised District 5 takes in a bit more of the Portland metro area but also shifts east, over the Cascades to swallow the city of Bend. There's plenty of territory here favorable to each party, and like the old District 4, the two parties are fairly closely matched; in the case of the 5th, there's a slim Democratic advantage. The new 5th overall, while shaped differently, actually is highly similar in partisan leans. It casts off some Democratic territory to the west (like Lincoln County) but picks up Bend, which now is more Democratic than Republican and has been getting bluer with each cycle. Schrader lives in Canby, which is inside the new as well as old 5th district.

The new 6th district, then, lies to the west of the new 5th, on the west side of the northern part of the Willamette Valley. It includes southern and southwestern suburbs of Portland (which may provide about a third of the district's population), the city of McMinnville, the capital city of Salem, and lots of rural area around these places. As a whole, it is estimated to lean Democratic by about 7%. That means a win for a Republican here is not unrealistic, but the climb will be steeper than for a Democrat. (Disclosure note: I live in Yamhill County, which will be in the center - in some ways at the heart - of the new district.)

After complaining bitterly about an earlier iteration by Democrats of a congressional districting map, Republicans took a look at the new one - the one that passed on Monday - and some of them concluded that, while the numbers are a little softer and more competitive, Democrats still are highly likely to get what they want - five of the six House seats in the new Congress, rather than four of six.

That's not settled yet. District 5 and 6 are close enough that the partisan balances don't represent a complete lock; if in either district Republicans field a strong candidate and campaign against a lesser Democratic counterpart, they have a realistic shot. And right now we don't know who those candidates will be or what their campaigns will look like.

That said, for now, if you want to put down money on which party gets the newly-minted congressional seat out of Oregon, the smarter money would be on the Democrats.

Legislative nonsense


A covey of far-right legislators gathered in Boise on September 15 for the purpose of trying to go into session to stop President Biden’s vaccine mandate. They fell way short of a quorum, but it would not have made any difference if the whole kit and caboodle of both houses had shown up. The Legislature has no authority to call itself into session under the Idaho Constitution. Only the Governor can convene a special legislative session.

Legislators clearly know that they can’t go back into session once they have finished business and gone home in the spring. One of the first things the body did when it got to town in January was to try to figure out how it could call itself into special session. They correctly concluded it would take an amendment to the Idaho Constitution. They then approved Senate Joint Resolution 102, which will be on the November ballot next year.

If the voters approve the proposed constitutional amendment, the Legislature will be able to convene a special session upon the request of at least 60% of the membership of both houses. Voters should think twice before supporting this proposal in light of the grotesque, irresponsible performance of the Legislature this year, including its failure to reform the property tax, chasing its tail on non-existent critical race theory and trying its best to sabotage efforts to control the coronavirus.

Later in the session, someone came up with the bright, but thoroughly mistaken, idea that the House could close up business but then reconvene later in the year simply by saying it was taking a recess, rather than saying it was adjourned sine die. There is no magic in those Latin words as neither they nor “recess” appear in the pertinent provisions of our Constitution. No previous Legislature in state history has tried to pull this trick.

Despite the failure to get anything constructive done on September 15, some legislators plan to meet on September 28 to consider bills to challenge the federal vaccine mandate, with the hope of convening a legislative session to act on them in late October or early November. Such a session would not be any more lawful then than it is now under the Idaho Constitution.

To his great credit, one lawyer-legislator branded the special session maneuver as “something that has no lawful basis.” Representative Greg Chaney, R-Caldwell, who has established himself as a truth-talking lawyer, said the gambit was “merely to score political points.”

Even if the Legislature were to have the lawful power to call itself back into session, it would be pointless because President Biden’s vaccine mandate has a sound legal basis under federal law. It is also good public policy in light of the alarming medical emergency brought on by the recent coronavirus spike in Idaho.

Those like gubernatorial candidate Janice McGeachin, who spoke at the September 15 rally in opposition to the mandate, are apparently unfazed by the fact that Idaho hospitals are filled with unvaccinated Covid-19 patients and medical personnel are working their fingers to the bone caring for them. She staunchly assumed a pro-choice stance proclaiming, “It is not the place of any business, any governor or any president to dictate to us what we do with our bodies.” That was a head-snapping statement to come from her mouth.

The long and short of it is that the Legislature does not have the constitutional authority to convene itself back into session. Should it attempt to do so, without a call by the Governor, any action taken would be subject to challenge in court and there are certainly lawyers in Idaho who would step forward to support the Idaho Constitution.