BOISE – A last-ditch attempt by Idaho’s former redistricting commissioners to propose new legislative and congressional districts – nearly three weeks after their deadline – has no legal effect, state officials declared Monday, other than as a recommendation to a new commission that will convene on Wednesday.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa said he views the former commissioners’ unanimous agreement as a “positive development,” and the agenda for the new commissioners’ first meeting on Wednesday morning will be amended to include a presentation on it from the former commissioners. Still, he said, “There’s not a valid plan unless a legally constituted commission adopts the plan. … That will be up to the new commission.”
Ysursa huddled with Idaho Republican Party Chairman Norm Semanko and Democratic Party Chairman Larry Grant for an hour Monday morning, joined by phone by Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, to decide how to proceed with regard to the new agreement.
Both Semanko and Grant said they were prepared to endorse the plans approved by the former commissioners, but given Monday’s legal guidance, they’ll proceed with the new commission. Both said they thought the new commission would look “carefully” at the agreement as it makes the final call.
The agreement includes a congressional district plan, C-38, that commissioners from both parties earlier expressed support for, and a new legislative district proposal, unveiled on Monday as plan L-83. It would force face-offs among incumbents for six Senate seats and nine House districts; it would split 12 counties; it includes four districts that violate the connecting-road rule, which is permitted with five of six votes of Idaho’s redistricting commissioners; and it has a population deviation of 9.51 percent, meaning the difference in population between the most-populous and least-populous counties. That’s within the range considered presumptively constitutional, under 10 percent.
The plan would force North Idaho Sens. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, and Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, to run against each other in next year’s GOP primary if they both want to stay in office.
Keough said she liked the way the plan responded to concerns raised by Clark Fork-area residents about dividing their community and to North Idaho residents who wanted to see southern Bonner County paired with northern Kootenai County in the new District 2.
“I think they could have left Joyce and I in separate districts,” she said. “But incumbents aren’t the focus of their planning process, or at least they’re not supposed to be.”
Broadsword noted that the plan was submitted by GOP redistricting staffer Jason Hancock, whose main job is top aide to state schools Superintendent Tom Luna and who was an architect of Luna’s controversial school reform legislation this year. Both Broadsword and Keough voted against it. “That was the first thing that came to my mind,” Broadsword said.
Both senators said they’ll wait for a final plan before deciding what they’ll do.
The plan also would force a potential faceoff in the new District 7, which would include three House GOP incumbents – Reps. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries; Shannon McMillan, R-Silverton; and Paul Shepherd, R-Riggins – but just two seats.