Oregon Republicans this week followed through on promises to challenge the new congressional district lines favored by Democrats, which GOP critics claim were blatantly and illegally gerrymandered.
The four Republican former elected officials, including former Secretary of State Bev Clarno, an appointee who was the last Republican to hold statewide office, filed suit in Marion County Monday to toss out what they described as an “obvious, extreme, partisan gerrymander” of Oregon’s congressional district map.
Two weeks ago, Democrats approved on strict party lines a map creating Oregon’s new sixth congressional district and reshaping the other five in a way that even nonpartisan analysts said would strongly favor liberal votes over conservative ones.
The proposal is expected to give Dems five of the state’s six seats in Congress for the next decade — 83%, even though Democrats have never come close to capturing that percentage of Oregon’s electorate in a statewide, contested election.
For example, even in a presidential race where Oregon was never remotely considered to be in play, Joe Biden took home only 56.5% of the state’s vote last November (Donald Trump was the choice of just over 40% of the Beaver State).
House Speaker Tina Kotek further soured Republicans on the process after reneging on a power-sharing deal she’d struck with GOP leaders during the previous legislative session — replacing the bipartisan commission with a Democrat-led committee that was free to put forward maps to their liking.
“Gerrymandering is cheating,” House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, said in a statement Monday.”Oregon Democrats want a map that protects incumbents and silences the voices of Oregonians. This challenge is an opportunity for the courts to fix the political gerrymandering and create maps that truly represent Oregon.”
In addition to what critics say is the highly partisan and biased nature of the districts, opponents point to other flaws in the map, such as the way it breaks up counties, census tracts and other geographical areas far more than the last time the maps were redrawn a decade ago.
Of particular issue has been Oregon’s 5th District, which contains Canby and has been held by Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader since 2009. As redrawn by Democrats, the 5th will extend from a small swath of southeast Portland all the way to Bend.
In all, four of the five majority-Democrat districts in the new map would include some portion of Oregon’s largest and most left-leaning city.
The Marion County suit asks the court to redraw the districts ahead of the 2022 election cycle and make the state pay the plaintiffs’ attorney fees. Under a new system lawmakers enacted in 2013, a five-judge panel appointed by Oregon’s supreme court chief justice will hear the case and, should the Republican petitioners prevail, redraw the lines.
Oregon law says “no district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party, incumbent legislator or other person,” but the courts have set a high bar for proving district maps were intentionally drawn for partisan advantage.
Rresented with a similar court challenge in 2001, the Oregon Supreme Court dismissed the suit on the grounds that “the mere fact that a particular reapportionment may result in a shift in political control … falls short of demonstrating such a purpose.”
Drazan and other Republicans have advocated for taking the responsibility for redistricting out of the hands of lawmakers and leaving it instead to an independent commission. A possible ballot measure that would put that proposal before voters could come as soon as next year.
Help us build a sustainable news organization to serve Canby for generations to come! Let us know if you can support our efforts to expand our operations and keep all of our content paywall-free. #SwimWithTheCurrent!