Just in time for Thanksgiving, Oregon Democrats got a double dose of good redistricting news this week. So quite a few Dems will be happier at the dinner table tomorrow, while Republicans will stew about the legal decisions.
On Monday the state Supreme Court upheld the redistricting maps for the state legislature.
Up, in, around or out?
It's a question facing dozens of incumbent lawmakers and scores of potential challengers after the Oregon Supreme Court on Monday removed legal obstacles to implementing new legislative political districts.
The justices dismissed two lawsuits against new maps for 60 House and 30 Senate seats approved by the Legislature and Gov. Kate Brown on Sept. 27.
The complaints filed in court claimed claimed Democrats had created districts that would build on their current supermajorities in Salem. At the end of the most recent session, Democrats had a 37-23 advantage in the House and 18 of the 30 members of the Senate.
In its decision, the court ruled that the plan for districts that would go into effect with the 2022 election was not illegal, even if it had a partisan lean.
Then today, Wednesday, a special panel of judges issued a ruling saying that the legislature's Congressional redistricting map, which could give Democrats at least four and maybe five of Oregon's six House seats, was legal.
Oregon is closer to moving ahead with its new Congressional district and new boundaries for five others after a panel of judges ruled Wednesday that work to draw the new boundaries didn’t illegally favor Democrats.
Most independent analyses have Democrats winning at least four, and likely five, of the state’s six congressional districts. Registered Democrats make up about one-third of the state’s voters – the largest party bloc in Oregon. Democrats have held four out of five seats in the U.S. House and both U.S. Senate seats.
Four Republicans led by former Secretary of State Bev Clarno sued to block the Congressional redistricting plan, arguing that a potential 5-1 Democratic split didn’t reflect the reality of the state.
But in their unanimous 14-page opinion, five retired circuit court judges appointed to consider the case determined that the new map was better for Republican candidates than any in the past 30 years.
“The evidence included expert testimony which compared 50 years of Oregon’s history with congressional districting,” they wrote. “That evidence demonstrated that the enacted map was well within the range of plans that legislatures and courts have adopted in Oregon for the past 50 years and that the enacted map is more favorable to Republicans than any map since 1990.”
The opinion is interesting reading, especially if you're a political junkie. Or, an avid Democrat. Republicans will find it infuriating, but hey, that's the nature of politics.
This passage about urban and rural voters likely will particularly irritate Republican leaders, since they objected mightily to the Congressional map splitting the Portland area among multiple districts. But the panel of judges found this to be a desirable feature.
Turning briefly to issues raised by the amicus curiae, it is evident on the record that the Legislative Assembly considered the importance of drawing districts with both rural and urban elements. FOF ¶¶ 59, 62, 101, 156-60. Indeed, because Oregon has only six congressional districts, “each will necessarily include diverse communities of interest. A plan that includes within one district communities having vastly different concerns does not violate either statutory or constitutional requirements.” Perrin v. Kitzhaber, No 0107-07021, slip op at 6 (Multnomah Cnty Cir Ct, Oct 25, 2001). There is no evidence that rural interests were disrespected. To the contrary, SB 881 amplifies rural voices by including substantial rural and agricultural communities in all six of Oregon’s congressional districts, thus ensuring that each of Oregon’s members of Congress represents rural interests and concerns.
Nonetheless, a Republican state legislator hopes to have the 2022 session of the Oregon legislature advance a proposal for an independent redistricting commission.
In every state under Republican control, the GOP is busily drawing hugely gerrymandered Congressional districts in an attempt to regain control of the House of Representatives. If every state operated under the same independent redistricting rules, then sure, Oregon should be a part of this.
Just don't complain when Oregon Democrats play politics with redistricting in a considerably milder fashion. Bonham's Republican party isn't creeping toward anti-democratic authoritarianism, they're running headlong toward it.
So it's good that Oregon's maps have been upheld legally, even though the Congressional map approval by the special panel of judges can be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Since the panel voted unanimously against the Republican effort to overturn the map, almost certainly the Supreme Court would go along with this.