BOISE – The bipartisan citizen commission charged with the once-a-decade crafting of new Idaho legislative districts has reached agreement on just one point: to stay at 35 districts.
The figure could have been set at anywhere between 30 and 35 districts. But last week, the commissioners unanimously agreed to stick with 35 after hearing at 14 public hearings from people who oppose shrinking the number of districts, viewing that as a move to reduce their representation in the Legislature.
The commission has agreed on little else with regard to legislative maps. Last week, it reviewed a legislative district plan drawn up by Democratic Commissioner George Moses, plan L-28. On Monday, GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito is scheduled to introduce his version.
GOP Co-chairman Evan Frasure called the Democrats’ map “fairly radical” and said it includes “some districts that have never been put on paper before.” Esposito said it retains some undesirable aspects of the current backward-C-shaped District 2, pairing southern Bonner County with Shoshone County and points south; and also took issue with new proposed districts in central Idaho and in the Treasure Valley. One, he said, “sorta looks like a fish with a hook in its mouth or smoking a pipe. … I just think there are some basic problems with the way some of these districts line up.”
Moses said, “I’m heartbroken you don’t like our map.” A key point of contention: GOP commissioners said the Democratic plan creates too many districts that aren’t connected by highways, a new requirement that lawmakers have imposed since the last redistricting a decade ago.
Moses responded that half the counties in the state aren’t connected by highways to the adjoining counties. “This is over half the land mass of Idaho,” he said. “This statute will require that you divide counties in order to comply with it – that is on its face unconstitutional.”
Esposito said, “I believe we can actually accomplish the task put before us with a minimum number of county splits – maybe not six.” That’s the number of counties divided in L-28. He said his plan will focus on “meeting the constitutional, statutory and court guidelines, so we’re taking all those into account.” He said, “Hopefully the other commissioners will find it something they can support. At the very least, hopefully it’ll be a starting point for coming together and arriving at a plan that we can get a 6-0 vote on.”
Here’s how plan L-28 would change which districts current incumbents fall into (each district can have two representatives and one senator):
In the proposed new District 1, there would be two sitting state senators: GOP Sens. Shawn Keough of Sandpoint and Joyce Broadsword of Sagle, meaning they’d have to face off in a primary if both wanted to remain in office.
In the proposed new District 6, there would be three House members for the two seats: Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow; and Tom Trail, R-Moscow. In the proposed new District 8, there also would be three sitting representatives: Reps. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale; House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale; and GOP Caucus Chairman Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly.
In the proposed new District 19, there are two sitting senators: Sens. John Andreason, R-Boise, and Les Bock, D-Boise. There are also three representatives: Reps. Max Black, R-Boise; Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise; and Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise. In the proposed new District 21, three sitting state representatives would face off for two seats: Democratic Reps. Sue Chew and Bill Killen, and GOP Rep. Lynn Luker.
In the proposed new District 23, two GOP representatives who currently serve the same district, Reps. Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home and Rich Wills of Grand View, would have Challis Rep. Lenore Barrett join them to vie for the two seats there. That’s because this district would combine a swath of central Idaho, including Lemhi, Custer, Boise and Elmore counties. In the proposed new District 25, there would be three sitting House members: Republicans Sharon Block, Stephen Hartgen and Leon Smith, all of Twin Falls.
And finally, in the proposed new District 27, two senior senators, Sens. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Denton Darrington, R-Declo, would vie for the same seat if both want to stay in office; while three sitting Republican representatives would vie for the two House seats: Reps. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, the assistant majority leader; Bert Stevenson, R-Rupert, the chairman of the Resources Committee; and Fred Wood, R-Burley, a member of the joint budget committee.