Max Denning

For the first time since 1982, Oregon is projected to receive an additional seat in the United States Congress.

After the 2020 census, if Oregon’s population reaches the level set by the federal government, the state will receive a sixth congressional district, and experts are predicting that will be the case. But, what is less predictable than Oregon’s population is what part of the state would comprise this new district. For 20 years, Oregon’s 2nd congressional district, which is comprised of every county In Eastern Oregon, has been the only one represented by a Republican — Rep. Greg Walden. Redistricting is unlikely to alter which district far Eastern Oregon counties are in, but it could change what cities are encompassed in the state’s congressional district with the largest area.

The Observer asked Jim Moore, a political science professor and director of political outreach at Pacific University’s Tom McCall Center for Policy Innovation, to use a program — designed by computer scientist Dave Bradlee — to draw a map of Oregon divided into six congressional districts in the way he believes the Legislature will do so in 2021. The Observer also enlisted Reagan Knopp, a conservative political consultant and chairman of the Jackson County Republicans, to do the same.

Moore, whom Oregon Business magazine called “the most quoted political pundit” in the state in 2016, originally told The Observer he thought the new district would include at least part of Washington County, giving the Portland metropolitan area a fourth district congressional district. But, when he began to draw the district, he instead found a more plausible possibility: the Oregon coast becoming its own district.

“I saw it as a district (representing) the more natural resource dependent parts of the state,” Moore said.

The new district Moore drew would include all of Oregon’s coastal counties as well as northwestern Columbia County, the far western portion of Lane County and the Southern Oregon counties of Josephine and Jackson. This would give the district the necessary population for a new district. Experts say each district will have approximately 720,000 people in 2022.

Moore would also significantly alter the lines of the 1st Congressional District — which currently includes almost all of Washington County, most of the west side of Portland and the entirety of Yamhill, Columbia and Clatsop counties — so it would solely be located in sections of Washington and Clackamas counties. The considerable growth in the population of Hillsboro, Beaverton and Oregon City would allow those three cities to constitute the majority of the population of the 1st District. In Moore’s revision, the 5th District would lose part of Clackamas County but would retain the majority of the county.

“It would give the suburban areas their own district,” Moore said, noting this is where much of Oregon’s population growth has come over the last 10 years.

Moore’s version of a six-district state would alter the partisan split. While Oregon’s 5th Congressional District is currently considered a toss-up by national experts and the seat has been held by both parties, a Democrat has represented the district since 1997.

According to an analysis by Bradlee’s program, Moore’s redistricting would give Oregon two districts labeled as “even”: — the 1st and the 5th districts. The 2nd District would remain labeled as “Good Republican” with a partisan split of 56 percent Republican and 42 percent Democrat. And the 3rd, 4th and newly drawn 6th districts would be considered “Great Democrat” districts, with 77, 60 and 60 percent Democratic representation in the districts, respectively.

Knopp referred to a six-district map designed by Jacob Boenzi, an Arizona high school student, he thinks is the most plausible. Boenzi’s map creates a sixth district that consists of all of Clatsop, Columbia, Tillamook, Yamhill, Polk, Lincoln, Benton and Linn counties along with less populated parts of Marion and Washington counties.

Boenzi’s map — which is not what Knopp would like to happen, but instead what he thinks the Democratic Legislature will pass — has less partisan balance than Moore’s. The map has the 1st District as 66 percent Democrat, the 2nd District as 54 percent Republican, the 3rd District as 77 percent Democrat, the 4th and 5th districts both as 53 percent Democrat, and the new 6th District as 52 percent Democrat.

“Nationally, you will see Democrats pushing fairer redistricting in 2020,” Knopp told The Observer. “You won’t see that message from Democrats in Oregon.”

Using Bradlee’s program, Knopp created his own map of another possibility. This map’s new district contains the entirety of Lincoln, Polk, Benton, Marion and Linn counties as well as small portions of Yamhill and Clackamas counties. The map also cuts portions of District 2, placing Hood River County in District 3 and approximately half of Wasco County in District 5. To get to the necessary population, the map puts the eastern parts of Lane and Douglas counties in District 2.

Knopp’s map solidifies the 2nd District as red but gives the upper hand to Democrats in the other five districts.

“While this is a less likely result, I would be surprised if Democrats don’t at least toy with the idea of using eastern Multnomah and Hood River (counties) to shore up the margins and lock in another seat,” Knopp said. “It also means the only current Republican in the Oregon delegation, Greg Walden of Hood River, would no longer reside in the 2nd Congressional District.”

Oregon law does not require members of Congress to live in their districts.

ORS 188.010, which gives the state’s criteria for drawing congressional districts, states that a district must “be contiguous; be of equal population; utilize existing geographic or political boundaries; not divide communities of common interest; and be connected by transportation links.”

Moore’s sixth district would unite the coastal region — a community of common interest — which is currently in three different districts.

The law also states “no district shall be drawn for the purpose of favoring any political party.” This part of the law may be the most important. Justin Levitt, an associate dean for research at the Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and scholar of constitutional law and the law of democracy, told The Observer, despite this law, political parties often use redistricting to gain or secure power. As of this month, the Democratic Party has super majorities in both branches of the Oregon Legislature and also holds the governor’s office. Levitt said this could lead to the drawing of congressional districts that support the Democratic Party.

“Essentially, politicians in power who have a partisan path to keep or (to) extend their power generally use it,” Levitt said.

Oregon’s redistricting is currently drawn by the state legislature, must be passed by both the state House and Senate and then subsequently signed by the governor. If the Legislature and governor can’t agree, the onus falls on the Secretary of State to reconfigure the districts. No matter who draws the lines, the redistricting can be challenged in court. Of the last six redistricting efforts in Oregon, four have been subject to a court challenge.

State Rep. Greg Barreto, who represents the La Grande area, said he also believes the Democrats will gerrymander the congressional districts.

“(They will) draw the lines however it benefits them,” Baretto said. “Everything we pass in the Legislature is geared (to benefit the majority party).”

Barreto said he would like to see Oregon go in the direction of California and nine other states and let a commission draw the party lines.

Levitt agreed this plan would improve how redistricting works.

“An independent process is not a guarantee that everyone is going to love all the districts all of the time,” Levitt said. “But an independent process gives more confidence to more people that the process was cleaner and doesn’t have benefitting incumbents or benefiting party top of mind.”

Jamie McLeod-Skinner, the Democratic candidate for Congress in the 2nd District in 2018 who lost to Walden, said she trusts the legislators in her party, but she would like to see them give more representation to rural Oregonians.

“I would like to see some more populous areas drawn into District 2,” she said, suggesting the district be cut in two, giving the Southern rural areas a separate district from the Eastern part of the state.

She also noted the 2nd District is a diverse area with a number of concerns, so giving it more representation is important.

Moore said he could understand why McLeod-Skinner would want this, especially since it may give her a better shot at winning a seat in Congress, but he explained the more rural parts of Oregon lack the population centers to have two congressional districts.

Oregon is projected to outpace the needed population by 150,000, but McLeod-Skinner said she was worried the Census may ask respondents if they are citizens, which could deter a large number of residents from responding. In 2014, the American Immigration Council estimated 130,000 undocumented immigrants lived in Oregon.

“It’s not a slam dunk,” McLeod-Skinner said of Oregon being projected to receive an additional congressional district.

Walden declined to comment on potential redistricting and the possibility of breaking up the 2nd District. Instead, Justin Discigil, spokesperson for Walden, provided the following statement: “Representative Walden is honored to serve the people of Oregon’s Second Congressional District and is squarely focused on that work in the U.S. House.”

No matter where the district lines might be drawn in 2021, an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives will give Oregon a larger voice in Congress.