BOISE – Idaho’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission has now held 10 public hearings around the state, including four in North Idaho last week, and members say it’s going well – so well that they hope to decide on a redistricting plan by July 27, a full month ahead of schedule.
Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane, of Lapwai, offered the target during a hearing in Moscow, with the idea that if the commission doesn’t reach a plan by then, it’ll keep meeting into August; her motion passed unanimously.
“I think we have a good chance of making that goal,” said GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito, of Boise. “We’re hoping to have a 6-0 vote, that’s our goal.”
The numerous public hearings, including some in smaller communities like Sandpoint and Soda Springs, have been eye-openers for the commissioners; there are four more to go, in the Magic Valley and Meridian.
“We’re really paying attention to public input,” said commission Co-Chairman Evan Frasure, of Pocatello. “As you do that, it takes a lot of the political gamesmanship off the table.”
A clear example came in Sandpoint, where residents such as Byron Lewis, of Clark Fork, urged the commission to return all of Clark Fork to Legislative District 1. That’s where it was before the last plan was drawn 10 years ago, which lumped some precincts into District 2, along with far-off Shoshone and Benewah counties.
“It is important to me that I am allowed to go to the same polling place as my neighbor,” Lewis told the commission. “As it stands now, I can’t do that.” He added, “Because of the way the lines were drawn, some folks may have decided not to vote. Some folks … chose to use the absentee ballot.”
From homes in his area, the polls might best have been accessed “by boat, and then walk two miles to the polling place,” he noted.
Frasure told Lewis his testimony showed how helpful it can be for the commissioners to hear from people who know their areas. Lewis’ desire to have Clark Fork all in one district “makes a ton of sense to this commissioner, at least,” Frasure said.
Later, Frasure said, “That was worth the travel to Sandpoint just for the testimony on Clark Fork, no question. Those people have been inconvenienced now for 10 years. … It’s very easy to fix that. When you put those precincts back in, you can easily correct those problems, and we wouldn’t have known that without the public testimony. Every commissioner, I saw their heads going up and down.”
Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, who represents District 2, told the commission the district isn’t set up properly. “It isn’t about seated legislators. It’s about what’s best for the citizens who live in those districts, what’s easiest for them to be able to get to the polls and participate in the system,” she testified in Sandpoint.
Frasure said, “I feel a little bad about it, but there is a very high probability, very high, that she could end up in District 1.” That means as the commission realigns District 2, Broadsword could end up in the same district as Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.
“That’s just the reality,” Frasure said. “I think all of us are committed to do the right thing.”
Some themes have emerged consistently across the state, like keeping cities and other communities of interest together. In Moscow, there was a sharp divide between people who testified that they want rural voices preserved, rather than dominated by the small city of Moscow, and a smaller group who said the communities surrounding Moscow are connected to it and Latah County should be kept together in a single district. Similar urban-rural divides came up in Lewiston.
Esposito said all the public input has been “extremely helpful for all of us.”
Plus, he said, “Some of the guidelines that we’ve been given and the reality of the numbers on the ground are going to really help pull us, actually, together, because we don’t have maybe as much latitude as a lot of people think.”
For example, lawmakers passed a law since the last redistricting requiring all parts of a district to be connected by roads; that’s not the case in the current District 2.
Esposito noted that even if the bipartisan commission votes unanimously for a new legislative district plan, it still could be sued – multiple lawsuits were filed last time around. But, he said, “I’m feeling a lot more confident that we’re going to be able to get there than I did at the beginning of the process.”