Let legislators hear about redistricting

Rural residents of Oregon – particularly those who are of a politically conservative, self-sufficient, responsible bent, often complain about the imbalance of power in Oregon.

The results of Measures 66 and 67 (and of several other recent ballot measures), the results of the 2010 governor’s race and the local congressional election, and a long laundry list of other decisions from Salem and urban population centers run contrary to the best interests of constituents in rural counties. It leaves many frustrated and concerned about their lack of a voice.

Any correction to that imbalance will have to come through redistricting – the process of redrawing the lines of congressional and legislative districts every 10 years, based on population counts from the U.S. census.

The Oregon and the U.S. Constitutions require that districts be of roughly equal population and represent communities of interest.

It’s that last item that gets lost in the shuffle of the often raw and vicious political process that takes place largely behind closed doors.

How much of a hope there is for change will depend in part on how aggressively rural voters demand a fair and non-partisan redrawing of the lines creating the state’s 60 House districts and 30 Senate districts, as well as the five U.S. Congressional districts by the state Legislature. The ideal scenario, but one politicians do not want, is to actually have competitive districts – in which there are fairly equal numbers of Republicans and Democrats – in addition to third-party adherents.

Unfortunately, Oregon does not have the independent, non-partisan committees to oversee our redistricting process that our neighboring states of Washington and California.

In Oregon, redistricting remains the responsibility of the legislature and an attempt to remedy this problem, “The Independent Redistricting Commission Amendment,” or Initiative Petition 50, which was circulated last summer, failed to gain enough signatures to make the November ballot.

The amendment would have created a non-partisan redistricting commission made up of five retired trial judges, one from each Congressional district.

So we’re back to Square One on redistricting in Oregon, except that the Legislature is nearly balanced this time around. That could be good news for rural voters – if the legislature can reach a decision. If not, Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat, will.

Oregonians who understand that equitable distribution of party lines in every legislative district is the key to the democratic process should demand that the computerized mapping system used by the legislature and the Secretary of State be made available on line. The program must allow the user to select a redistricting scenario that creates legislative districts that are as mathematically equal in Rs, Ds and Others as possible. Citizens can then ask their legislators to support that configuration.

Rural residents’ best hope at this point is to encourage the Legislature to get the job done in-house and this week is their best opportunity to do so.

Though the public hearings on redistricting can be a facade, they are part of the process and legislators need to hear from voters if things are not right.

Senate and House Redistricting Committees have been holding public hearings on redistricting and will do so in Albany, at Linn-Benton Community College, this Saturday, April 16. The hearing will be from 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. at Forum Room 104, 6500 Pacific Blvd. SW.

This is the public’s chance to have our say on the plan.