Eye On Boise

Former redistricters: 'Remember who you're responsible to' - citizens, not party

Former redistricting commissioners Dean Haagenson, left, of Coeur d'Alene, and Tom Stuart, right, of Boise, offered advice to this year's commissioners on Tuesday. Both served on Idaho's last redistricting commission a decade ago. (Betsy Russell)
Former redistricting commissioners Dean Haagenson, left, of Coeur d'Alene, and Tom Stuart, right, of Boise, offered advice to this year's commissioners on Tuesday. Both served on Idaho's last redistricting commission a decade ago. (Betsy Russell)

Former redistricting commissioners Dean Haagenson, a Republican from Coeur d'Alene, and Tom Stuart, a Democrat from Boise, told the new commissioners this afternoon that they've got a tough task ahead of them. Haagenson said he jumped at the chance to offer advice to new commissioners, because he learned from experience. First, he said, "Remember who you're responsible to - you're responsible to the citizens of Idaho. You're not responsible to your respective political parties."

He also highlighted "a couple big mistakes that we made," chiefly in starting at the Canadian border, "because you have to," and then working south and through the western part of the state, and ending up in the eastern part. "Don't do it," Haagenson said. "Start at both ends and come back to Boise or Ada County, Canyon County, where it's densely populated. You can move the line a few blocks and equalize a district. But if you're trying to do that where nobody lives, it's a difficult thing to do, so I think we got ourselves into a box." He said he thought the other mistake the last commission made was being too worried about splitting counties. "I would advise drawing a plan that is less than 10 percent deviation, but crosses county lines to the extent that is necessary to make reasonable, good, compact districts of communities of interest," he said. He noted that the backward-C shaped District 2 could have been avoided by coupling northern Kootenai County with southern Bonner County, two areas that are "very much alike." But that wasn't done because of the desire to avoid splitting Kootenai County. "If it's under 10 and you can show by virtue of documenting it why you did that, I think you can sell it," he said.

Stuart disagreed, and said he thought it was important to preserve counties where possible. "I think you'll get a lot of input in the days to come, probably far more than you want and far more than you need," Stuart told the new commissioners. "Recognize public theater for what it is and be ready to get on with business." He said no plan that's been developed by one party or the other will get quick approval. "I just don't think that's reasonable - that certainly didn't happen last time," Stuart said. "I think ultimately the plan that will be approved is one you develop jointly and one that you develop collaboratively."

Stuart also urged against concern over protecting incumbents. "As I look back a decade, many of the incumbents that everyone was trying to protect are gone," Stuart said. "It's often an error to design districts now to deal primarily with today's incumbents. I would encourage you to look past that."




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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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