August 15, 2001 11:00 pm
 (Greg Cross/The Bulletin).
(Greg Cross/The Bulletin).

By James Sinks#

Observer Capitol Reporter

SALEM This years strange saga of redrawing the states political boundaries entered its final act Wednesday as Secretary of State Bill Bradbury unveiled his final redistricting proposal and submitted it to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Now, the fate of the plan lies with the court which will consider legal challenges to the plan and decide if any parts of the maps ought to be redrawn before the Dec. 15 deadline.

The final blueprint takes into account public reaction from across the state in 21 public hearings and through letters and e-mail, Bradbury said Wednesday. Hearings were held in Pendleton and Baker City.

Im 100 percent positive that the plan I submit to the Supreme Court this afternoon will stand up to any court challenge, he said. This is a legal plan, this is a principled plan and this is a plan that responds to the voices of the people of Oregon.

In Eastern Oregon, the final version creates a northeast Senate district for Wallowa, Union, Umatilla and Morrow counties and a sprawling Senate district that stretches from Baker City and Burns to Madras and The Dalles.

Voters wont need to meet many new lawmakers, however. Sen David Nelson, R-Pendleton, and Rep. Mark Simmons, R-Elgin, will continue to represent the northeast counties while Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, would still serve Baker County. The only new face would be Rep. Tom Butler, R-Ontario, whose district would expand northward.

House Speaker Simmons return to the Legislature in 2003, however, depends on whether the Oregon Supreme Court overturns voter-approved term limits, the representative seeks re-election and is elected next year.

Bradbury acknowledged that the new eastside district is sprawling but said thats the nature of a process thats supposed to equalize population in each, based on the 2000 Census.

At least it stays east, Bradbury said. I argue this is still better than the Sandy River to Snake River district that exists now and extends westward to Troutdale.

Redistricting is a high-stakes political process because the new district configuration can determine what party controls the Legislature and sets the agenda for a decade about public schools, crime and punishment, and taxes. Democrats in the Oregon House even boycotted the session for five days in June to prevent Republicans from passing a redistricting plan as a nonbinding resolution.

Crook County Judge Scott Cooper called Bradburys vision a workable plan. His county shifts to a district that includes Lake County, north Klamath County and northeast Jackson County.

Change is hard but this is probably change we could live with, he said. Its not the perfect world

but hes making the best of a bad situation.

Bradburys plan also was panned at the Capitol by Republican leaders who said it is inconsistent, smacks of partisanship and could help tilt control of the state House and Senate to Democrats.

After an initial analysis of the revised redistricting plan it is clear that the secretary of state has made some significant changes, House Majority Leader Karen Minnis R-Wood Village, said in a prepared statement. However, many of the concerns he heard statewide could have been addressed but for some reason they were not.

Challenges can be filed to the Bradbury plan until Sept. 15.

Each Senate district contains two House districts.

Rep. Dan Doyle, R-Salem, an attorney and assistant majority leader, said party leaders will study the maps and crunch registration figures to decide whether its worth pursuing a legal appeal of the plan.

Of particular concern, Doyle said, Bradburys plan appears to favor liberal-leaning urban areas over rural areas and gives Multnomah County voters too big of a say in the makeup of the state house, because some residents from the heavily Democratic county are grouped into districts that extend into other counties.

But Bradbury rebuffed allegations that he was trying to help his party, noting that he didnt even look at party registration statistics and that the law doesnt allow district lines that aid any individual or party.

Of Oregons 240 incorporated cities, only seven fall into more than one district in the Bradbury plan.

Republicans have disagreed with that principle, especially in Central Oregon. They proposed splitting Bend into two rural districts, saying the city would be better represented by two lawmakers who also serve more conservative outlying areas.

But Bradbury made the city into a single district. He also tried to keep Indian reservations whole, and succeeded with seven of 10 of them, he said.