History was already not on lawmakers’ side this week as they began the once-in-a-decade task of redistricting — something the Legislature has failed to bring to the finish line 80% of the time over the past century, forcing the secretary of state and judiciary to finish the job.
But it’s likely that few expected things to unravel quite so quickly.
After the Senate on Monday quickly passed the maps proposed by Democrats, which would give Oregon five progressive-leaning congressional districts and one solidly red one covering about half of the state’s landmass, House Speaker Tina Kotek shocked many Capitol observers by rescinding a deal she’d made to share power with Republicans in the redistricting process.
After agreeing to a “hard-fought compromise” with Republican leadership last April, including House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby, Kotek reversed course, replacing the bipartisan commission with two Democrat-controlled committees to complete the redistricting task.
“She lied and broke her promise not just to us but to Oregonians,” Drazan said in a statement Monday, referring to Kotek. “She just sold the soul of our state for Democrats’ political gain.”
The maps favored by Democrats are heavily weighted toward their party’s interests, according to nonpartisan analysts like PlanScore, which found that a Democrat’s vote would be nearly 12% more efficient than a Republican one under such a proposal and that it would favor Democratic candidates in 80% of scenarios.
Republican critics point out that it would allow Democrats to control 86% of Oregon’s congressional delegation — despite Oregonians never giving Democrats 86% of the vote in a statewide, contested election.
“As written, this plan will rig the next 10 years of election to favor Democrats,” Senate Minority Leader Fred Girod, R-Lyons, said in a statement Monday, after the plan passed in that chamber. “Fifty percent of Oregon’s congressional representatives will serve the city of Portland, but only 15% of Oregon’s population live in Portland.
“The Democratic politicians decided it was more important that they pick their voters than voters pick their representatives. This partisan process proves that the legislature cannot be trusted to draw these lines in the future. The majority party will always look out for themselves. Oregonians deserve better than that.”
But Democratic leaders defended both the maps and Kotek’s about-face on the power-sharing deal, saying the GOP is to blame.
“Republicans were given the opportunity to engage equally in the redistricting process, even having an equal number of seats on the committee,” House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland and House Redistricting Committee Chair Andrea Salinas, D–Lake Oswego, said in a joint statement.
“Unfortunately, they refused to engage meaningfully, showing up at the last minute with highly gerrymandered proposals and attempts to obstruct this constitutional process. … The maps we’re voting on are fair, legally sound, reflect population growth and census data, and take into account the nearly 2,000 pieces of testimony we received from the public. We’re ready to get this work done.”
Throwing another wrench into the proceedings was the announcement Tuesday that work would be temporarily halted due to a confirmed case of Covid-19 at the Capitol Building.
In a statement Tuesday, Drazan urged Democratic leaders to take advantage of the situation to resume a bipartisan approach to the process that will shape the state’s congressional delegation for the next decade.
“It’s in the best interest of Oregonians that we salvage an opportunity to pass fair maps,” Drazan said. “They deserve fair representation despite the unexpected actions taken by the speaker yesterday. We need fair maps for Oregon and that’s still possible.”
Hear more from Rep. Drazan on this issue in Episode 301 of the Now Hear This: Canby podcast, “Gerrymander? I Hardly Know Her”:
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