Classify this among the expected dogs that didn’t bark in the night-time: You can’t fairly call Idaho’s new legislative and congressional redistricting plans a gerrymander.
A gerrymander is “a practice intended to establish an arguably unfair political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts.” It’s been happening in a bunch of states around the country, but it has to be said that Idaho isn’t one of them. Credit the Idaho redistricting commission system, and its current round of commissioners, at least in part for that.
You can complain about the new districts, as some people have and will. But they were not designed for specific, overt political gain by much of anybody.
The complaints come from the people swept up into legislative districts that are different or connect them to people with whom they feel little connection. You can feel some sympathy for people in Idaho’s far southeast, where the small-population counties of Bear Lake, Franklin and Oneida, all bumped up against each other, each now will be linked to (respectively) Driggs, American Falls and Burley, among other places, in each case far removed socially and over many real and metaphorical mountains. And there’s a district meandering through Idaho’s panhandle and north-central areas that is thinly at best connected by roads or communities of interest.
And yet there isn’t much way around it. Rural Idaho’s population is dropping in some places and not gaining in others, and the larger metros are booming, giving them more and geographically smaller districts.
And much as Idaho is Republican-dominated, Democrats actually have little to complain about here.
No set of maps would magically transform the Democratic Party into Idaho’s majority, but these new maps did them little damage.
The new congressional map resembles the old one in splitting Ada County between the two congressional districts, but the new one moves the line west far enough that just about all of Boise will be in the second district. That gives Democrats a better base to operate from in District 2, albeit still in a clear minority position, should that district ever move toward a more purple hue. (No, I’m not holding my breath, but you never know.)
Democrats also did about as well as they could reasonably have expected in the legislative districts.
The overall structure of the Boise districts, the largest base they have in the Idaho Legislature, isn’t enormously changed, and should result in a local delegation not too different from the last decade’s. It could have been otherwise; a really aggressive Republican gerrymander could have wiped out all but a couple of those now-blue districts.
Central-city districts remain in Coeur d’Alene and Idaho Falls, which haven’t produced many Democratic winners in recent elections, but have the potential. And it’s a close call, but I’d say the Moscow-centered district, swapping Benewah County for Lewis and part of Nez Perce counties, could benefit Democrats there slightly.
The new map will likely make life harder for the Wood River Valley Democrats, who have relied on Blaine County’s population being large enough to swing district elections in a region otherwise strongly Republican. But the basic growth patterns in the area were catching up with the area anyway; Democratic win percentages have been dropping there in recent elections.
A number of individual legislators will be complaining because of the way their districts were stretched or reconfigured, or because they were thrown in with other incumbents and someone will have to lose their seat as a result. (Happens every ten years.)
Taken as a whole, though, this imperfect map (as they all are) works. It’s roughly realistic and fair. Good enough.