Submitted by the Democratic Members of the Idaho Redistricting Commission-
Co-Chair Allen Andersen of Pocatello, George Moses of Boise, and Julie Kane of Lapwai.
In 1993, a super-majority of Idahoans amended the state constitution to create a bi-partisan Redistricting Commission. Two-thirds of the voters supported this amendment because it removed the process of redrawing legislative and congressional lines from the Legislature, eliminated the direct influence of incumbents, and prevented the majority party from overreaching its power to repress opposition. While some lawmakers and Republican operatives would still prefer this process to be done in the Legislature, Idahoans were right to protect their votes this way.
Unlike the 2001 Redistricting Commission, the current Commission was unable to pass new maps for Idaho’s legislative and congressional districts. The 90-day clock ran out this Tuesday at 5 pm (MDT), and the four votes necessary to pass a plan were not reached. The Secretary of the State now presents this conundrum to the Idaho Supreme Court for direction.
The Democratic Commissioners acted in good faith to reach a compromise. Our first proposal (L28) was an attempt to best honor the Idaho Constitutional requirement to keep counties as whole as possible. Legal precedent has determined that the only time a county should be split would be to reach equal population, as required by the U.S. Constitution. (As determined by precedent for state legislative boundaries, proposals with deviations under 10% meet the federal requirement of equal population.)
The Republican concerns with our proposal were that it violated Idaho statutes, in particular a new statute passed in 2009 which states that counties within a district should have a state or federal highway connecting them. Our final proposals addressed statute concerns, albeit cutting more counties than we felt necessary and therefore subject to a constitutional challenge, but nevertheless we proposed it in the spirit of compromise.
The Republicans continued to accuse us of being too greedy, too political, and unreasonable. This left us scratching our heads; our proposals addressed their voiced concerns. For a quick visual of our willingness to find a compromise, we are including in this readers’ opinion a map that illustrates the changes from our first proposal (L28) to one of our final proposals (L63). We made changes to almost every district, we worked to keep counties whole and honor the statutes. The green area highlighted on the map is the only district we did not alter, and the red lines show the changes made.
Our proposals do not give the Democrats any gains statewide or congressionally, in fact some of our compromise proposals result in a political loss from current maps. The Commission is bi-partisan, not non-partisan. This is designed to ensure that the majority party does not draw the lines to suppress the influence of the minority. In a state where even President Obama received a statewide vote of 37%, the Democratic political make up in the state legislature is barely 20%. If this were about political gains, our proposals could have looked very different. This simply isn’t the case.
If the Commission had begun discussions from the constitution, which states that we should keep counties whole, the political discussion would have been drastically limited. Yet, the Republican Commissioners insisted on weighing all the guidelines, statutes and the constitution with the same importance. We argued that doing so erodes the constitutional framework designed to protect individual Idahoans. A constitutional approach prevents the Commission from using its authority inappropriately, and it prevents the legislature from using statutes to influence the process.
The Supreme Court held in Bingham v Idaho Commission for Reapportionment (2002) that statutes must be considered, but “they are subordinate to the Constitutional standard of voter equality and the restrictions in the Idaho Constitution.” Simply stated, constitutions come first.
But, with a deadline fast approaching, we accepted that the Republicans were not going to approach mapping from legal precedent, so we moved drastically in their direction. We worked in good faith to address all the voiced concerns from our Republican colleagues.
Once we addressed their points, new concerns were voiced. The bait-and-switch tactics used in the last minute negotiations stymied progress. Also in the final hours, the Republican co-chair gaveled down for a recess and refused to let Democratic Commissioner Moses introduce a proposal with reasonable time for consideration. These tactics leave us wondering if there was ever a Republican intention to reach a compromise in the first place.
Yet as seen in the variance of proposals, there remains plenty of room to compromise– that is, if there isn’t a Republican covert agenda to strangle Democratic and moderate influence and to dismantle the spirit of the Redistricting Commission.
As the deadline loomed, an agreement lingered but never manifested. Perhaps the Supreme Court will summon us back to the drawing board to give us another chance to figure this out, and hopefully that will come with clarification on the legal guidelines that created the tailspin in the Commission.
The unfortunate reality though is that this Commission has taken the state to a place we have never been, and it is now up to the Supreme Court to determine where we go from here.