FRIDAY, SEPT. 16, 2011

Editorial: Panhandle team shows redistricting deal possible

The court-ordered restart of Idaho’s redistricting process is a potential setback for North Idaho voters.

The members of the Commission on Reapportionment could not agree on a statewide plan for new legislative and congressional district boundaries, but a compromise was reached on the area from roughly Grangeville north. Lorna Finman, R-Rathdrum, the commission’s Republican co-chair, and Julie Kane, D-Lapwai, produced a map that may dislodge a few incumbents, but nevertheless won applause because they had obviously listened to – and heeded – public comments.

Unfortunately, the two women were unable to broker a settlement among their male brethren on districts to the south – the Boise area in particular. On Sept. 5, time ran out for that first slate of commissioners. An ill-advised 2009 law prevents any of those six from serving on a new commission expected to be in place by the end of the month. A new set of eyes may not be a bad thing, but the commission’s remaining funds may not allow a repeat of the 14 public hearings that were obviously so helpful in North Idaho. Those meeting were recorded, but watching or listening is not the same as being there.

The commission is one of the few Idaho public entities where Democrats get a chance to play even-up against the state’s overwhelming Republican majority, and so have a reasonable shot at compromise. If it can be accomplished in the Panhandle, it should be possible in the rest of the state.

Meanwhile, the Washington State Redistricting Commission’s two Democrats and two Republicans on Tuesday released their individual plans for wedging a 10th congressional district into the same geography that today accommodates nine. Washington’s population growth earned the state another seat in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Three proposals, from Republicans Slade Gorton and Tom Huff and Democrat Tim Ceis, carve out a Seattle-area district with a majority of voters who are black, Hispanic, Asian, Native American or other minority. More public review will reveal whether the authors are genuinely interested in giving minorities an opportunity to elect one of their own, or cynically stripping a dependably Democratic constituency out of other districts.

Three plans make relatively minor changes to the 5th District, now represented by Cathy McMorris Rodgers, but one would sever the district at the Spokane-Whitman county line, and substitute Columbia Basin counties for those in the southeast corner of the state.

All the maps drape at least one of the new districts over the Cascade Mountains, which will unsettle rural constituents on the East Side. Given the disproportional growth of the Puget Sound area, some east-west combination is inevitable.

All the maps also remap Spokane County’s legislative districts. Gorton wipes out the seat held by Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown. Really.

The maps are available at the commission’s website, www.redistricting.wa.gov., where voters can also make comments until Oct. 11. Do so before the ink dries.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

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