SH Officials testify to keep Sweet Home in Linn County

Sweet Home and Lebanon officials and residents testified in opposition to Secretary of State Bill Bradbury’s plan to separate Sweet Home from the rest of Linn County in his redistricting plan.

Bradbury crafted the plan in 15 days after the Oregon Legislature failed to agree on new district lines. in the plan, Sweet Home would be placed in house and senate Districts that include Oakridge, Sutherlin and Drain. Sweet Home would be the only Linn County city in the proposed House District 44 and proposed Senate District 22.

Bradbury held a public hearing on his redistricting plan on July 31 at Linn-Benton Community College.

“If the plan needs to be changed, I will change it,” Bradbury said. “You, Oregonians, are now the experts on redistricting, and I’m here to listen.”

A number of persons from Sweet Home, along with Lebanon Mayor Scott Simmons, testified that Sweet Home should not be cut off from other Linn County communities.

“We are definitely sort of hooked at the hip,” Mayor Simmons said. Sweet Home and Lebanon share interests and common transportation links.

“As you are aware, Sweet Home is located in rural eastern Linn County and shares transportation and economic recovery interests with our immediate neighbors, Lebanon, Albany and Linn County proper,” Sweet Home Mayor Craig Fentiman said. “For many years, the communities and governmental entities have worked together on critical issues such as transportation planning and economic development and recovery, all critical efforts that have been greatly enhanced through common legislative representations under the current district format.…

“Lane County has significantly different economies, cultures and social makeup than that of Sweet Home and Linn County, which would only hamper ongoing efforts in these areas.

“Additionally, Sweet Home would be effectively isolated due to the lack of a direct transportation link to other communities in the new district.… We strongly urge you to reconsider your proposed plan and maintain the existing legislative boundaries already in place in Linn County, Albany and Sweet Home. To not do so will be a severe detriment and disservice to the citizens of the community of Sweet Home.”

Also at issue among those testifying was the combination of Albany and Corvallis into a single senate district and the division of Linn County into three separate senate districts.

“The plan dilutes out the voice of the people,” Linn County Commissioner John Lindsey said. “Sweet Home has no issues in common with Douglas County. The only correlation I can see is that they’re rural.”

Lindsey said he was prepared to go forward with an initiative and ballot measure making each county a single senate district, with a total of 36 senators. There are currently 30 senate districts. His proposal would be similar to the U.S. Senate.

That approach was originally intended by the Oregon Constitution, Lindsey said.

“I think it’s a legal plan,” Linn County Clerk Steve Druckenmiller said. “I think some of the attacks on it are unjustified. I don’t think it’s the best plan.”

With Senate District 19, there was never a doubt who represented Linn County, Druckenmiller said. “This plan would dilute Linn County representation. Albany and Corvallis really don’t share a common interest except very superficial things.”

Corvallis is a college and high-tech town while Albany is more industrial, Druckenmiller said, and the Lebanon and Sweet Home areas have become increasingly linked.

Lebanon, Brownsville and Sweet Home are beginning to take a regional approach to common issues in cooperation with each other, Sweet Home Economic Development Group Economic Development Coordinator Karen Owen said.

Druckenmiller unveiled a plan that could be adjusted at the borders as needed to maintain Linn County’s separate representation. He and the commissioners proposed following school district boundaries, which follow other political boundaries. A house district would include Harrisburg, Central Linn and the Albany area, and the other would include Lebanon, Sweet Home, Scio and northern Linn County. The two districts would be combined into a single senate district.

A number of persons, primarily from Albany, testified that Albany and Corvallis should not go into the same senate district and cited differing voting patterns, while most Corvallis speakers testified that the two communities held common interests.

Other persons from Sweet Home testifying included City Councilman Tim McQueary, City Manager Craig Martin and Senior Center Director Jean McKinney.

“We definitely think that Sweet Hom belongs with Lebanon,” House Majority Office Communications Director Kevin Curry said. “That’s the community of interest. The way he’s (Bradbury) positioned senate districts, he’s made them more winnable for Democrats than for Republicans.”