Eye On Boise

Redistricting commissioners spar

Idaho's citizen redistricting commission meets Monday in Boise. (Betsy Russell)
Idaho's citizen redistricting commission meets Monday in Boise. (Betsy Russell)

Idaho's bipartisan citizen redistricting commission is meeting today, and went over three publicly submitted legislative district plans this morning before turning to the latest plan proposed by GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito – his seventh. The newest plan, L-45, is another version of his L-34, this time making some changes in southwestern Idaho to pair Washington, Adams, Valley and Boise counties with a portion of Ada County, joined by Highway 21. It also keeps Gem and Payette counties together with a portion of Canyon County.

“We've been proposing any number of plan options, hoping to get our Democrat colleagues to the table to start negotiating,” Esposito said. “So we keep proposing variations on L-34.” He said his various plans are aimed at complying with all state laws and constitutional requirements. “I believe the Republican commissioners have acted in good faith,” he said.

But when Esposito asked for a specific vote now on allowing a precinct split in the Idaho Falls area in the latest plan, Democratic commissioners objected, noting that laws requiring five votes to approve a precinct split or a district without connecting roads conflict with the constitutional provision requiring just four votes to approve a plan. It was the latest example of partisan splits over procedures at the commission, which is split 3-3 between Democrats and Republicans. Democratic Commissioner George Moses said, “It's unconstitutional.” Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Anderson said, “What they're doing is essentially we would have to vote five votes on the pieces of the map before we could have a whole map.” That would essentially require five votes for any map, rather than four, he said.

Esposito said, “We need to follow the law, and that's what we're going to do, we're going to follow the law.” A week ago, he tried a similar move to approve an exception from the connecting-road rule aimed at keeping Lewis and Nez Perce counties together in a district, as Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane had advocated; Kane abstained and that motion failed on a 3-2 party-line vote.

Anderson said, “It's frustrating, really it is – it's a 'gotcha' game, essentially. You're going to play by my rule or we've got you. I don't appreciate that – I've told 'em before.”

The commissioners, from both parties, said from the start they hoped to have a unanimous, 6-0 vote on a redistricting plan. Asked if the four-vote or five-vote requirement really matters, given that goal, Anderson and Moses said that would be fine – if the two sides had a legislative district map they could agree on. “Right now, I haven't seen one that's even close to agreeing,” he said. Democratic commissioners object to splitting 11 counties in the GOP proposals; avoiding county divisions unless needed to meet the one-person, one-vote standard is a constitutional requirement. “In Bannock County I think it was three or four cuts,” Anderson said. Moses said some communities of interest are “cut to ribbons” in the GOP plans. “Pocatello is cut into three pieces,” he said.

Moses said, “Could we negotiate something? I think probably we could, presuming a willingness to give on both sides.” He said, “They've raised objections to our plan based only on the statute.” The Democratic legislative district plan, L-28, splits only six counties, but ignores the statutory requirement for connecting roads within districts.

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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