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Eye On Boise

Wed., Aug. 24, 2011, 3:24 p.m.

GOP redistricters accuse Dems of ‘raw partisanship’

Idaho's three GOP redistricting commissioners have sent out a guest opinion accusing their Democratic counterparts of "raw partisanship" and a "hardball, union-style negotiating tactic," and giving something of the impression that the moves toward compromise between the two sides that marked the commission's last two days of meetings have evaporated. However, Commissioner Lou Esposito, spokesman for the GOP commissioners, said the guest opinion is referring only to the drawing of a congressional district plan - not to the drawing of new legislative districts, on which the two sides softened in their last public discussions, the Republicans agreed to use the Democrats' last proposed map as a starting point for changes, and some movement toward compromise appeared afoot.

"This opinion is only speaking to the congressional," Esposito said. The GOP commissioners plan to distribute a second op-ed piece about legislative redistricting early next week, he said. "I would hope that the Democratic commissioners ... this week off have really given some serious thought to working towards a compromise; I know my fellow commissioners and I are very serious about doing that," Esposito said. "We've yet to see the kind of movement that we were hoping to see to fully believe we are going to be able to get there. Now we're hoping we're going to get there, but there's still some work to be done." Click below to read the GOP commissioners' full guest opinion on congressional redistricting. The commission reconvenes on Tuesday; its deadline is 5 p.m. on Sept. 6.

Every state is required to redraw its congressional and legislative political districts after the decennial census. In many states, this is done through a partisan process in which the party in power draws boundaries to its own benefit, at the expense of the minority party, and often the people, as well. In Idaho, the state constitution gives this important task of defining the state’s political boundaries for the next ten years to a bipartisan citizen’s commission. Each party controls three appointments to the commission.

By law, this commission must complete its work no later than 90 days after its formation. After spending June and part of July holding hearings and receiving an unprecedented amount of input from citizens all over Idaho, the commission got down to business. The commission appeared to be working well, across partisan lines, and was starting with the simpler task of redrawing the one line dividing Idaho’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts, we rapidly reached what appeared to be a consensus that Ada County would be the one county divided, with the dividing line continuing its westward drift, this time from Cole Road to Cloverdale Road. Those living west of the line or south of the interstate would be in the 1st district. Everyone else in Ada County would be in the 2nd district.

This is consistent with the approach that Idaho has taken with congressional redistricting since 1971, and has the advantage of predictability for Idaho’s voters. All of the whole counties currently in District 1 remain in District 1. The same is true for those whole counties in District 2. Ada County remains divided between east and west, just as has been the case for 40 years. Those living just west of Cole Road and north of the interstate are shifted from District 1 to District 2, just as those voters have been expecting for the last ten years.

Sadly, this amicable, orderly process was derailed by an injection of raw partisanship. Essentially, while on the cusp of agreeing to a congressional map and moving on to the more difficult task of drawing 35 legislative districts, the three Democratic commissioners suddenly reversed course, and refused to vote on a map to which both sides had indicated they were agreeable. It was clear that this was being done as part of a hardball, union-style negotiating tactic, in which approval of the consensus congressional map would be withheld in order to wring concessions out of the other side on a legislative map. The Democratic commissioners then proceeded to vote down plan after plan, including the one with which they had voiced their approval.

That was on July 19th, and it marked the end of the consensus-driven, bipartisan efforts of the Redistricting Commission. Since then, positions have hardened. Legislative maps have been drawn, almost all of them proposals from the Republican side, while we have waited over a month for the Democratic commissioners to agree to a vote on a congressional map.

The commission will not reconvene until Tuesday, August 30th, a mere seven days before its work must be completed. Until then, we three Republican commissioners will continue in our efforts to produce maps, in the hopes that one may be found that the Democratic commissioners will find agreeable, or at least a suitable starting point for discussions. We also hope that the Democratic commissioners will find their way back to the bipartisan, consensus-driven approach that marked the first half of our tenure, and soon. Because the clock is ticking.

Submitted by Lorna Finman, Evan Frasure and Lou Esposito

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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