Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is an Oregon anomaly: a Republican elected to statewide office.
This probably helps explain why comparatively few Salem City Club members attended his talk about redistricting today, since most members lean leftward.
Another reason might be that the recommendations of Richardson's pet project, a Redistricting Reform Task Force, have been politically dead ever since, well, six months before the Task Force issued its final report in October 2017.
According to a Bend Bulletin story, it sounds like Richardson attempted to spike the ball way before he was anywhere near the political goal line.
Richardson, the state’s only Republican statewide officeholder, announced Monday that a task force he created in February would draw the district lines. An 18-page constitutional amendment would go on the ballot for voters to approve or reject.
Well, neither of those things happened.
As us City Club members heard today, the Redistricting Reform Task Force didn't recommend that it be the body to draw district lines after the 2020 census, and there is no way the Democrat-controlled legislature is going to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot.
Nor, apparently, is there going to be an initiative to do this, since Richardson mentioned a possible initiative only in passing.
So I'm not sure why the City Club program committee decided that a talk about a redistricting proposal that was dead on arrival before it even arrived was warranted. That said, Richardson sounded reasonable today, and the questions that were asked of him were interesting.
One came from me.
I noted that it doesn't seem fair when one side in a battle is expected to lay down its arms before the other side. Thus my question for Richardson was whether any red states, or better, deeply red states, had implemented independent redistricting commissions similar to those in Washington and California, which Richardson mentioned as good examples.
Richardson said he couldn't think of any. At the time, this confirmed my belief that progressives are more open to giving up the legislative power to approve redistricting maps than conservatives are.
However, when I got home and Googled this, I found that as of June 2017, six states had independent redistricting commissions: Alaska, Arizona, California, Idaho, Montana, and Washington.
Maybe Richardson mentioned California and Washington early on in his talk to reassure City Club liberals that left-leaning states have gotten on board the independent redistricting commission train. Actually, though, more red states have gotten away from partisan redistricting via the state legislature.
A Eugene Register Guard opinion piece notes that the last time Oregon engaged in a redistricting process, in 2011, it went well.
Oregon has been relatively immune to raw partisanship in apportionment, but suspicions linger after new lines are drawn every 10 years. Such suspicions are corrosive in themselves, undermining confidence in the fairness of the political system.
Oregon’s last reapportionment was generally successful -- for the first time in half a century, the 2011 Legislature succeeded in coming up with a bipartisan plan. In earlier decades, the secretary of state drew district lines because the Legislature could not agree, or the task ended up in the hands of the state Supreme Court. The 2011 success has led some, including Jeanne Atkins, the former secretary of state who now chairs the Oregon Democratic Party, to question the need for the changes recommended by Richardson’s task force.
The task force calls for redistricting to be placed in the hands of an independent commission made up of people who have no stake in the outcome and who are of varied political affiliations. California and Washington have both created redistricting commissions, reportedly with good results. Because such a change would require a constitutional amendment, the Legislature would need to place the question before the voters.
Which isn't going to happen, as already noted. It's tough for Democrats, who currently control both the state Senate and House, plus the Governorship, to surrender control of redistricting to an independent commission.
And the fact that the impetus for this came from a Republican, Richardson, certainly didn't add to the appeal of the proposal. Richardson did his best to sound all bipartisan and non-political in his talk today, and mostly he succeeded. It wasn't a fluke that he was elected to be Secretary of State in blue Oregon.
Richardson can sound like he is above the political fray, even when he really isn't. There's little doubt in my mind that, deep down, Richardson saw an independent redistricting commission as being favorable to the interests of Republicans.
Here's something else that was on my mind as I listened to Dennis Richardson today: unpleasant memories of his days as Oregon's "spam king." That 2014 Oregonian story says:
Opponents dubbed Rep. Dennis Richardson, R-Central Point, the "spam king" in 2012 after he used public records laws to obtain – and use -- hundreds of thousands of personal email addresses.
That spring, he crashed the Oregon Legislature's server for hours by trying to send a newsletter with four large attachments to 475,477 people – the equivalent of one in eight Oregonians.
Now Richardson, the GOP nominee for governor, is back to his old ways.
Richardson's campaign obtained 418,958 email addresses in February through a records request to the Legislature, and has been generating complaints for sending unsolicited emails, often to non-supporters.
This made me whisper to a couple of fellow liberals at my table, "No way!" when Richardson asked people to sign up for his email list if they wanted to be kept informed about Secretary of State goings-on.