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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: 4 counties in lawsuit offer own district map

BOISE – The four Idaho counties that are suing to challenge Idaho’s new legislative redistricting plan – which include Kootenai County – have drawn up and submitted to the Idaho Supreme Court their own version of a new legislative district plan, dividing just six counties.

Led by Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs, the group maintains that L-87, the plan that was adopted, impermissibly splits 11 counties. “Plan L-87 disenfranchises these counties’ citizens by gerrymandering these districts to eliminate the impact of the county electorate,” the petition to the Idaho Supreme Court declares.

Not mentioned in the petition: Idaho’s bipartisan citizen redistricting commission drew its plan in part to keep cities together in legislative districts. Loebs said the constitution doesn’t mention cities. State law does, however, say, “to the maximum extent possible, districts shall preserve traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest.”

Loebs argues in the petition that L-87 violates that law by pairing, for example, portions of Twin Falls and Owyhee counties with Elmore County, when Twin Falls and Owyhee have “significant irrigation issues” that Elmore residents don’t share. “The voice of the residents is diluted in the Legislature by being combined with Elmore County, which could create very serious water issues in the future in those communities,” the petition argues.

“Cities change constantly, they grow and they expand,” Loebs said, “whereas county borders are fixed and never change. So that’s part of the problem with saying that cities are a community of interest.”

The petition also argues that there’s “no direct economic connection” between the 5,000 residents of Kootenai County who land in the new District 7 in Plan L-87, with all of Shoshone, Clearwater and Idaho counties.

The new plan proposed in the legal challenge would have a population deviation between districts of 9 percent, compared with 9.92 percent for Plan L-87. It would pair part of southern Bonner County with all of Shoshone, Clearwater and Idaho counties in a new District 3. It proposes no other county splits in North Idaho.

The Idaho Supreme Court is reviewing the petition, and likely will set a briefing schedule and determine which parties should submit legal briefs on Monday. However, with the timelines for such cases, oral arguments aren’t likely until as late as January.

Idaho’s next election – for which new legislative districts will be in effect – is its May 15, 2012, primary, with the filing period for candidates opening in March.

Incumbent matchup averted

One more contest between legislative incumbents prompted by Idaho’s new legislative redistricting plan has been averted: Rep. Elfreda Higgins, D-Boise, says she won’t seek a third term, choosing instead to retire after her current term.

Higgins landed in a new District 16 that also included Rep. Max Black, R-Boise, who is in his 10th term, and second-term Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise. Higgins is the House assistant minority leader and is in her second term; she is a retired businesswoman and former Garden City Council president.

Higgins, 66, said redistricting didn’t weigh into her decision; instead, she said, “I just decided it’s time for me to retire and have some fun time.” Her grandchildren all live far away, and she wants to have time to visit them.

Two other lawmakers who already have announced they’ll not run again – and would have faced other incumbents if they did – are Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Rep. Marge Chadderdon, R-Coeur d’Alene.

Stegner gets UI job

Idaho state Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, has been named special assistant to the president of the University of Idaho for state governmental relations – chief lobbyist – and will start his new job Dec. 1.

“The pool of applicants was truly impressive,” UI President Duane Nellis said. “However, Joe’s breadth and depth of experience in the Legislature and business, as well as his commitment to education, made him stand out from many other capable leaders.”

Stegner replaces Marty Peterson, who retired from the post after two decades.

Stegner, 61, a retired grain dealer and a University of Idaho graduate, served as assistant majority leader in the Senate until this year, when he was ousted by Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Meridian; he currently chairs the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee. Now in his seventh term, Stegner said he’s “honored” to be chosen for the job.

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