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Redistricting hearing: ‘I suppose all the political folks will be mad at us when we get done’

Helo Hancock, legislative director for the Coeur d'Alene Tribe, told the redistricting commission tonight that the tribe is the largest employer in Kootenai County, with nearly 2,000 employees, 60 percent of whom are not Indian.  "The tribe has a very significant and important interest in Kootenai County and we feel like there is truly a community of interest that meets the definition and certainly the intent of that provision in the statute," he said. "Our request was that the reservation be kept whole and that it be joined in a district in Kootenai County." None of the plans proposed thus far really does that, Hancock said, but he said the earlier plan L-64 probably came the closest in North Idaho. He said rumors that any plan that divides the Coeur d'Alene Reservation would mean an automatic lawsuit from the tribe are untrue.

Clearwater County Commission Chairman Don Ebert urged against including his sparsely populated county in a very large district that's difficult to travel, but said, "I really don't have the solution for you. The thing that I see, though, that I would encourage you not to let happen: Don't use our last little part of the state to balance for the rest of the state." Redistricting Commission Co-Chairman Ron Beitelspacher of Grangeville responded that when he represented that district back when, "At one time I was clear down at the Ada County line, so I understand what's involved in driving those distances." He noted that the "magic number" to make a legislative district is roughly a population of 45,000. "If you take Idaho and you take Clearwater and you take Lewis County, you're still short," he said.

Phil Lampert, Benewah County commissioner, said proposed plan L-83 is "completely unacceptable for Benewah County - it splits Benewah County, it splits Benewah County's seat, St. Maries, right down the middle." Former state lawmaker Gary Ingram noted that when he served in the 1970s, he represented all of Kootenai County. "Things have changed," he said. But county lines still matter more than "nebulous" concepts of communities of interest, Ingram said. "Weigh the counties more ... and get 'er done."

Beitelspacher, closing the hearing after nearly two hours of testimony, said, "I suppose all the political folks will be mad at us when we get done, and so be it. We're here to serve the people." His comment was greeted with applause.

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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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