Eye on Boise: Redistricting whirlwind continues

BOISE – Idaho’s new citizen redistricting commission crisscrossed the state last week, holding hearings in Idaho Falls, Coeur d’Alene and Boise, all in the course of three days.

“We’ve gotten some good ideas … and there are things we’ll look at,” GOP Co-Chairwoman Dolores Crow said at the close of the Boise hearing Friday. The six-member bipartisan panel will start its deliberations on Tuesday, and has scheduled all-day meetings through the rest of the month.

The previous panel missed its deadline to draw new legislative and congressional districts, prompting the Idaho Supreme Court to declare a new commission had to be convened – and a little-noticed quirk of a state law passed in 2009 meant none of those commissioners could serve again.

Crow, a former longtime lawmaker from Nampa, noted that the new commission, like the earlier one, was required by law to hold hearings around the state. “I didn’t think in the beginning that it was necessary,” she said, because the commission has the benefit of the entire hearing record amassed by the previous commissioners, who held a record 14 public hearings in locations ranging from Sandpoint to Soda Springs.

But Crow and other commissioners said the testimony turned out to be “very informative and helpful.” It also included specific reactions from people around the state to proposed legislative district plan L-83, crafted by the former commission after its deadline had passed; these hearings were the first formal chance for people to react to that plan.

GOP Commissioner Randy Hansen, of Twin Falls, said the testimony gave him ideas for “improvements” to the former commissioners’ plan.

The commissioners followed a grueling schedule on their round of hearings, including rising at 4 a.m. Friday for a 6 a.m. flight back to Boise after the Thursday night Coeur d’Alene hearing, for a Boise hearing that kicked off at noon. “But it’s been well worth the while – and well worth the exhaustion,” Crow said Friday.

CdA turned into hottest hearing

While the Idaho Falls hearing was the most heavily attended, drawing a standing-room-only crowd of more than 80 people, the Coeur d’Alene hearing, which drew about 50, was easily the liveliest.

Several people loudly decried plan L-83, calling it a “slap in the face” to rural residents, a disservice to their local counties or communities, and “completely unacceptable.” One declared, “It’s hard for me to believe there is not any politics involved.”

At the same time, one of those testifying questioned why Idaho’s citizen redistricting commission is divided equally between Republicans and Democrats, when Republicans control large majorities in both houses of the Legislature.

When Paula Bauer, of Viola, warned against “political posturing,” Crow responded that she’d heard more political posturing from those testifying that night than she’s heard from anyone on the commission.

‘They’ll be mad at us’

Democratic Commission Co-Chairman Ron Beitelspacher, who presided over the Coeur d’Alene hearing, had this to say as he closed the session after nearly two hours: “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.

Could be a district

Longtime Coeur d’Alene City Councilman Al Hassell told the redistricting commission that according to the latest census, Coeur d’Alene’s population is now 44,137 – almost exactly the perfect legislative district population size of 44,788. “This makes your work quite easy, I think, keeping Coeur d’Alene whole in redistricting,” he told the commissioners. “It is not only sensible, but almost mathematically perfect.”

Ten years ago, when the population was less, the city was divided into three districts, he said. He presented a letter signed by the entire City Council and mayor requesting that Coeur d’Alene be kept within a single district.

Like Frankenstein …

Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs, who complained at the Boise hearing that L-83 “hacked Twin Falls County into four pieces,” said he was up late recently watching the movie “Frankenstein” and thinking about redistricting. Dr. Frankenstein didn’t do a bad job stitching his monster together, Loebs said, but he settled for a damaged brain after dropping it on the floor. “I urge you guys not to settle, to stay in as long as you have to stay in to get it done,” he said, “because this is very important for the whole state of Idaho.”

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