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Eye On Boise

When Idaho lawmakers drew their own districts…

Recent calls by majority Republicans in Idaho to return to the days when lawmakers themselves were in charge of drawing new legislative districts overlook the angst, delays, multiple court battles, and "poisoned" legislative sessions that resulted back then - when even those handling the task decided it should go to a citizen commission instead.

"It consumed the legislative activity and agenda completely," said Pam Ahrens, a former Republican state representative who served during both the 1980s and 1990s reapportionments, and chaired the legislative redistricting committee in 1991-92. "I saw the best and worst of people." Said Gary Moncrief, a Boise State University political scientist and nationally known expert on redistricting, “It was generally a mess.” Jim Hansen, a former Democratic state lawmaker who served on Ahrens' committee, said conspiracy theories abounded, with lawmakers accusing others of shifting district lines to hurt them personally - and therefore refusing to support them on other legislative bills. "It just completely poisoned the atmosphere in the Legislature," he said.

And that was nothing compared to the redistricting a decade earlier, in the 1980s, which led to three Idaho Supreme Court decisions, four vetoes, a failed special session and a set of elections in 1982 held with districts that already had been declared unconstitutional. There was even a fistfight between two senators in a Capitol corridor as the redistricting tensions hit their height in March 1982. Idaho's 1970s reapportionment plan was overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court - as was the 1960s plan - and on March 7, 1974, the Associated Press reported a plan finally was approved and signed for that go-round, noting, "All the action came in the 52nd day of the current session and the Legislature has been working on reapportionment practically all that time."

Former House Speaker Bruce Newcomb said it "wasn't conducive to doing the state's business." That's why two thirds of the members of each house of Idaho's Legislature voted in 1993 to turn the task over to a bipartisan citizen commission, and in 1994, Idaho voters agreed. You can read my full story here from Sunday's Spokesman-Review.

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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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