It happens every decade. Following the census completed during the year that ends with zero, states’ populations change. The ensuing year requires district boundary adjustments to ensure proper voting rights.
According to 2010’s head count, Oregon’s population increased from
3,421,399 on April 1, 2,000 to 3,831,074 by April 1, 2011, a growth of 12%.
Oregon’s 76th Legislative Assembly House and Senate Committees on Redistricting convened a meeting in Medford on April 1, from noon to 2:15 p.m.. Although 70 people attended, the joint Committees also received public testimony flashed on a large screen, via video conference from Ashland, Grants Pass and Klamath Falls.
Familiar names listed on the Committee membership’s letterhead, included Southern Oregon Rep. Sal Esquivel, and Senator Jason Atkinson, both in attendance. Their daunting task consists of redrawing boundaries for State House and Senate districts and for Congressional ones. Their decisions will remain in effect for the next ten years. Observing was State Senator Doug Whitsett.
Current law mandates the Legislature to form districts of relatively equal population, new House districts containing 63,851 people, and Senate districts, 127,752. Each State Senate district must encompass two House districts. Rules also require Congressional Districts 2 and 4 to have target populations of 766,215 each.
Current findings show Congressional District 2’s population exceeding that target goal by 3,772, while District 4 reflects a deficit of 26,981 residents.
Complicating the formula, State Senate District 2 (Sen. Atkinson) lacks 736; S.D. 3, (Sen. Bates) lacks 2,863; and S.D. 28, (Sen . Whitsett) lacks 1,842. House District 2 (falls short by 2,075; H.D. 3, -625; H.D. 4,(Rep. Richardson) -111; H.D.5,-2,508; H.D. 6, (Rep. Esquivel) -355. H.D. 55 (Rep. Mike McLane)which includes some Upper Rogue cities, tallies 2,778 over target goal, but Klamath area’s H.D. 56 reflects a shortage of 4,620.
Handouts stated that as nearly as practicable, each district should be contiguous, of equal population, utilizing existing geographic or political boundaries; not divide communities of common interest, and be connected by transportation links.
ORS 188.010 prohibits drawing districts for the purpose of favoring political parties, incumbents or others.
That anti-gerrymandering provision reverberated among comments from speakers at the Higher Ed. Center, and the attendees at the video conferences. Among Jackson County residents, the most often echoed sentiment regarded the desire to keep Medford whole. Chair, Chris Garrett, summoned groups of two or three persons from a previously signed request list. Then after tightly guarded three-minute speaking limits, proceedings rotated with different out stationed petitioners through video contact..
Shady Cove Mayor, Ron Holthusen, and spouse, Cheryl had arrived early, and exuded optimism. “By virtue of geography, culture, and economics,” the mayor said, “we are a part of Southern Oregon and Jackson County.” He further explained that we’re a unique area defined by the Rogue River as the Upper Rogue communities of Eagle Point, Shady Cove, Prospect and Butte Falls. He noted criteria in ORS 188.010 that requires keeping these communities intact: Utilize existing geographic boundaries—Mountains to the north and east define the Upper Rogue watershed; Southern Oregon’s a distinct Geographic area; The Rogue River is a common resource for water, recreation and commerce. “Do not divide communities of common interest: Jobs and other economic activity are tied to Jackson County,” he added, also mentioning the connected transportation link. “Highway 62 constitutes the main arterial, linking the Upper Rogue to Medford.”
Representing School District 9, Jim Mannenbach, also alluded to the need to keep the Upper Rogue, S.D. 9 communities together and noted students from Trail to White City attend a single high school in Eagle Point.
Eagle Point residents, Roger and Sue King, informally expressed concern over the threatened boundaries of their House District 55. “We have a huge population spurt — over 2,500 more than were here ten years ago,” Sue said. We like our State Representative, and don’t want to lose him.”
Eagle Point Mayor Bob Russell was also in attendance as was Jonathan Bilden; neither spoke.
The Legislative Assembly faces a deadline of June 30 to complete its redistricting plan. That end date applies to State, but not Congressional redistricting. To provide ample opportunity for Oregonians seeking further information, the State established a website at www.leg.state.or.us/redistricting.
By F. C. Blake
Of the Independent