The Oregon Legislature on Monday succeeded in doing something it had only managed in two out of 10 tries since 1911: pass new electoral maps for the state’s congressional and legislative.
Now, the question is whether they can hold up in court, with furious Republicans promising legal challenges and saying they were shut out of the process.
The stakes for this decade’s redistricting task were especially high, considering Oregon came into the process with a new, sixth seat in Congress following 10.6% growth from 2010 to 2020 — well above the U.S. average of 7.4%.
It was the first time in 40 years the state gained a seat. Oregon ranked 11th nationally in population growth rate over the last decade, according to 2020 census data.
But the congressional map favored by Democrats was heavily weighted in their party’s favor, according to even nonpartisan analysts, giving Democrats a reliable five out of Oregon’s six congressional seats: 83% — even though the state’s electorate, while solidly tilted toward the left, is nowhere close to 83% Democratic.
Four of the state’s six districts contain portions of Portland, Oregon’s largest and most liberal-leaning city.
Still, Democratic leaders on Monday hailed the new districts as fair and representative.
“These maps … meet the highest of legal standards and incorporate feedback we heard from Oregonians across the state,” said Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, co-chair of the House Committee on Redistricting. “We followed the census data to protect the constitutional requirement of one person, one vote.”
“I appreciate the work of my colleagues in the Legislature to get where we are today,” agreed Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Portland. “Each district in these bills was carefully designed to ensure compliance with Oregon’s redistricting standards and ensure that communities across Oregon will have strong and accurate representation in the Oregon Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives.”
Governor Kate Brown also applauded what she characterized as compromise among competing viewpoints — though the votes were strictly along party lines after House Speaker Tina Kotek reneged on a power-sharing deal with Republican leadership last week.
“The right to vote is sacred,” Brown said. “In Oregon, we know that every vote matters because every voice matters in our electoral process. I’d like to thank the Legislature for coming together, through adversity, to pass legislation for redistricting. We do not always all agree, but when we find common ground, we can work together to do what is best for Oregon.”
But Rep. Christine Drazan, House minority leader and Republican from Canby, blasted the process in the harshest of terms, calling it “a wake-up call for Oregonians.”
“They know Democrats had to cheat to get these maps across the floor,” she said. “Democrats in Oregon have passed rigged political maps that will guarantee super-sized majorities in the legislature and immediate control of more than 80 percent of Oregon’s congressional seats. They should be ashamed that they have gerrymandered Oregonians out of their shot at fair elections for the next decade.”
Oregon law prohibits gerrymandering for partisan advantage, and Drazan promised the maps passed Monday would face — and ultimately be overturned by — a withering legal assault, as did Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Stayton.
“The law requires us to keep communities of interest together in the redistricting process,” Girod said. “The only community of interest this map seeks to keep together are Democrat voters. In no world does it make sense for Bend and Portland to be in the same district. Spreading out urban voters by having four districts that include portions of Portland is the very definition of gerrymandering.”
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