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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow BATTLE SHAPES UP OVER EASTSIDE REDISTRICTING

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BATTLE SHAPES UP OVER EASTSIDE REDISTRICTING

By James Sinks

Observer Capitol Writer

SALEM On most political issues, state lawmakers from Eastern Oregon all of them Republicans see eye-to-eye.

But that harmony is being tested this year as the Legislature wrestles with how to redraw political districts to take into account population changes in the 2000 Census.

One lawmaker, Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, is even threatening to stop meeting with his Republican colleagues in caucus meetings if an effort succeeds to remove Baker County from his district.

I am categorically opposed to any effort to split Grant and Baker counties, said Ferrioli, whose district could be pushed further westward into the Democratic-leaning Portland area as a result.

Grant and Baker counties have a shared history and economic, social and cultural ties that go back 100 years.

Another flashpoint for lawmakers will be the fates of Crook and Jefferson counties, which could shift to different districts or even be split into pieces depending what happens with neighboring districts. Ferrioli represents Crook County and Sen. Bev Clarno, R-Redmond, represents Jefferson County.

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper said local officials are strongly opposed to a proposal that would divide the county along U.S. Highway 26, and have sent letters to leaders of the House and Senate redistricting committees.

If you take a unified community and divide it, half of our population isnt going to attract anybodys attention, he said. We are very happy to be so attractive to so many people but wed just assume be left alone.

In addition, the county isnt even connected to the districts to the south except via dirt roads, he said. The statute clearly says to look at transportation connection, so I fail to understand that.

By law, the Legislature must redraw district lines once every decade to ensure each of the states House, Senate and congressional districts have roughly equal

populations.

But deciding how to redraw the political map can be tricky. Imagine putting together a jigsaw puzzle in which few people agree what the shape of the pieces ought to be.

The stakes also are high: Depending where the lines are drawn, it could shake up the political makeup of districts and give Republicans or Democrats an edge in congressional races and control of the Legislature for the next 10 years.

Individual lawmakers who dont want to lose pieces of their districts or have their eye on a piece of a neighbors also can help inject a healthy dose of controversy.

Things are going to change and thats a struggle because people dont like change, said Sen. Steve Harper, R-Klamath Falls, the chairman of the Senate Rules and Redistricting Committee. His district also needs to expand to include more people and could bulge north into Baker, Deschutes or Crook counties.

Theres pluses and minuses to everything we do, he said.

But before making any final decisions, lawmakers are heading on the road this month for a series of public hearings, including a meeting Friday of the Senate Rules and Redistricting Committee in Pendleton. The session begins at 10:30 a.m. at the Pendleton Armory, 2100 N.W. 56th Drive.

No official maps have been released to show what the redrawn eastside districts might look like but lawmakers will need to start showing their cards soon. A June 30 deadline is looming.

If lawmakers and Gov. John Kitzhaber cant agree by then, the task of reapportioning legislative districts will fall to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat. The boundaries for Oregons five congressional districts the state didnt grow enough in the past decade to add a sixth will be decided in U.S. District Court if state lawmakers dont agree.

Oregons population grew from 2.8 million in 1990 to 3.4 million in 2000, a rate of 20.3 percent, according to statewide Census figures. On the east side of the Cascades, only the districts that include fast-growing Deschutes and Jefferson counties gained enough population to shrink in size. All of the others didnt keep pace with the states growth rate so will need to expand. To put a roughly equal number of people in each of the states 60 House districts, each will need to have a target of 57,023 people; the states 30 Senate districts will need to have 114,047. To get to that figure, Ferriolis senate district will need to expand to include 4,962 additional people. Harper will need to add 6,986 people and Senate Majority Leader David Nelson, R-Pendleton, needs to add 4,023. And because all of three of those districts already touch the Idaho border, at least one and possibly all of them will need to creep westward. The question is which ones and where. Will Nelsons district push west into Heppner? Will Harpers district end up in fast-growing Deschutes County or cross the Cascades into Jackson County? Nelson and Harper wouldnt say what their personal preferences are, and said theyll wait until after the public hearings conclude to announce them. I want to know what people think about the issue, Nelson said. But Ferrioli said some back-room deals are apparently being cut - and Baker and Grant counties will be on the losing end if theyre divided. Based on the Census data, 19 of Oregons 30 Senate districts and 36 of the 60 House districts will need to expand to gain population this year. For those districts that shrink in size, theres a concentration of political clout because a legislator becomes more focused on a specific regions concerns, said Sen. Peter Courtney, D-Salem, a longtime lawmaker who was in the legislature for the 1981 and 1991 redistricting debates. The redistricting process isnt supposed to be partisan - state guidelines say party politics arent supposed to be a factor. But the process looks to be political and bruising. And in Eastern Oregon, it appears, it could be Republicans versus Republicans. The birds have left the trees, Courtney said. Theres going to be hand-to-hand combat.

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