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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: State redistricting process turns sour

BOISE – Idaho’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission appeared close to a compromise on a new congressional district plan last week, but then the talks broke down in a partisan impasse over process.

Republican commissioners – the commission has three Democrats and three Republicans – had introduced several plans to divide the state basically as it is now – just moving the dividing line in Ada County farther west to reflect the shifting population, but leaving North Idaho in District 1 and eastern Idaho in District 2.

Democratic commissioners had introduced a plan to divide the state horizontally, pairing Canyon County with eastern Idaho in District 2 and Ada County with North Idaho in District 1, and using Interstate 84 as the dividing line to split both Ada and Canyon counties. They argued that the public needs easily identifiable “bright lines” between the districts.

Then, GOP Commissioner Lou Esposito of Boise proposed a compromise plan that all sides praised. It uses I-84 as part of the dividing line between the districts, like the Democrats’ earlier plan did, but it divides only one county, Ada, and every county in the state stays in the same district it’s in now.

Democratic Commissioner George Moses said of Esposito’s plan, “Subject to a little more study, I would have to say that this is a plan, speaking for myself, that I could live with, subject to looking at it a little more closely.”

Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane agreed. “I just want to say that I really like this plan,” she said. “I think Lou made a good effort to move toward brighter lines of demarcation, and at the same time, he managed to keep it within a zero percent deviation. This is something that I think I can support as well, when the time comes for a vote.”

However, the Republicans thought the time for a vote was last week – and the Democrats said they wanted, instead, to set aside the congressional plans and move on to drawing new legislative districts, voting on both at the end.

Moses noted that 10 years ago, the redistricting commission set both the congressional and legislative district maps on its final day; Idaho’s congressional district lines don’t have to match its legislative district lines, and they don’t now, though local election administrators say it’d make things easier.

GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure said the redistricting commission doesn’t have to follow the last commission’s process. “Hopefully we learn from some of their mistakes,” he said. “They ran the clock on this thing and had to go to court three times. … If you have a winner there, I would certainly like to understand the reasoning why we don’t go ahead and vote, get that issue out of the way so we can continue on.” He suggested Moses was advocating “somehow holding this one hostage,” and GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman asked what reasons there are to delay, other than political ones.

Kane said, “When I come down here to do commission business, I want to get it done. I think we’re done with congressional maps. … Let’s move forward with the legislative maps. Why not?”

“I guess I don’t see the crisis that is generated by not taking a position or not taking a vote at this time,” said Democratic Co-Chairman Allen Andersen.

When neither side would give in, Republicans forced a series of tense votes on the five proposed congressional maps commissioners had been eyeing, including the compromise; none mustered the four votes needed to adopt a plan.

Democrats then tried a parliamentary maneuver to force consideration of legislative plans, and because Andersen was chairing the meeting that day – the two co-chairmen trade off – they succeeded, and Moses presented a 35-district legislative redistricting plan. It provides for three full legislative districts within Kootenai County and nine in Ada County.

Frasure, who will chair the commission’s next meeting on Monday, called the process a “crying shame and a waste of time.”

As he left the room carrying the gavel, Frasure said, “You make these rulings – it’s a two-way street.” Asked what’ll happen on Monday, he said, “We’ll address that – the game’s begun.”

New chief justice

Idaho Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick has been elected chief justice by his colleagues, succeeding current Chief Justice Daniel Eismann, who will continue to serve on the state’s highest court. Burdick, who will begin his four-year term as chief justice on Aug. 1, has been a judge for three decades; he was appointed to the Supreme Court by then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne in 2003 and re-elected to the court in 2004 and 2010.

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