Idaho redistricters urged to focus on state, not party
BOISE - When Coeur d’Alene contractor and former state lawmaker Dean Haagenson served on Idaho’s redistricting commission a decade ago, he got telephone threats, threats against his business and more.
“I don’t always hew to the party line - I try to do what’s reasonable,” Haagenson said Tuesday. “Some people respect that. Some don’t.”
As Idaho’s new redistricting commission started work Tuesday on its task of drawing new legislative and congressional district lines over the next 90 days, it called in two members of the last redistricting commission for advice.
Haagenson’s top advice: “Remember who you’re responsible to - you’re responsible to the citizens of Idaho. You’re not responsible to your respective political parties.”
Haagenson, a Republican, said some in his party were angered last time around that he worked with Democratic commissioner Ray Givens of Coeur d’Alene to develop compromise plans. “The fact that I’d sat down with him at his computer and toyed with district lines really offended them,” Haagenson recalled.
But that’s how Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission works - with three Democrats and three Republicans, it’ll take at least one person willing to cross party lines for any plan to pass.
Lou Esposito, a Boise political consultant and a GOP member of this year’s redistricting commission, said, “We’re coming into this with an open mind. We’re going to be looking at all the public input. We’re going to be approaching this from a standpoint that best serves the citizens and voters of Idaho.”
He added, “We’re also going to be taking the Republican view on all this. But the reality is the numbers are the numbers. From our point of view, we’re blessed with those numbers.”
Republicans already control every statewide elected office in the state, plus more than 80 percent of the seats in the Legislature. Population trends since the last census aren’t considered likely to change that - they could even increase it.
Former Democratic Commissioner Tom Stuart of Boise told the new commissioners that no plan developed solely by one party or the other will pass. “I just don’t think that’s reasonable - that certainly didn’t happen last time,” he said. “I think ultimately the plan that will be approved is one you develop jointly and one that you develop collaboratively.”
Idaho’s current legislative districts will “have to be substantially changed” this year, Boise State University political scientist Gary Moncrief told the newly sworn-in commissioners on Tuesday morning. That’s because the ideal district size, should Idaho stick with 35 legislative districts, is now 44,788. That’s about 8,000 more people than the ideal legislative district size 10 years ago. But while some areas have grown substantially in population, others haven’t grown much or have even shrunk.
If new districts had a variation in population of up to 10 percent - from 5 percent below ideal to 5 percent above - new districts could have between 42,548 and 47,024 people. But Idaho’s current districts, according to the latest census data, now have between 34,066 and 76,940 people - and most of the current districts fall outside the acceptable population range. “We are in a position where the current districts obviously have to be substantially changed,” Moncrief said.
The commissioners could choose to create anywhere from 30 to 35 legislative districts in their new plan. They’ll also draw the new line between Idaho’s two congressional districts.
Haagenson said the last redistricting ended up with a couple of “ugly” legislative districts - C-shaped District 2 in North Idaho and sprawling District 31 in eastern Idaho.
The last commission started at the Canadian border, “because you have to,” and then worked south and through the western part of the state, ending up in the eastern part. “Don’t do it,” Haagenson advised the new commissioners. “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.”
Lorna Finman of Rathdrum, a GOP member of the new commission, said she figured her party asked her to serve because “they wanted my mathematical brain” - she has a PhD in physics from Stanford and is president of LCF Enterprises, a high-tech engineering and manufacturing business based in Post Falls. “It’s a lot of math,” she said.
Plus, she said she had no plans to run for office. Redistricting commissioners are barred from running for the Legislature for five years after serving on the commission.
The commissioners on Tuesday elected former state Sen. Evan Frasure, R-Pocatello, and former state Rep. Allen Andersen, D-Pocatello, as their co-chairmen. They also discussed holding public hearings around the state, including in North Idaho; their first public hearing will be tonight in Boise, from 7-9 p.m. in the Capitol Auditorium.
The other members of the six-member commission include Nez Perce Tribe managing attorney Julie Kane of Lapwai, and Teamsters Union political coordinator George Moses of Boise, both Democrats.