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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: New redistricting panel to visit CdA

BOISE – Idaho’s new citizen redistricting commission is coming to town – the commission has scheduled a public hearing from 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Coeur d’Alene City Hall.

It’s one of three the new panel is holding around the state as it starts Round 2 of Idaho’s redistricting process, after an earlier bipartisan commission failed to reach agreement on new congressional and legislative district lines by its Sept. 6 deadline. That panel reached an unofficial agreement on Sept. 23.

‘We needed five more minutes’

Four of Idaho’s six former redistricting commissioners, plus a fifth who sent a letter of support, made a strong pitch to their successors last week to adopt the legislative and congressional district plans they reached after they’d been officially disbanded, and save taxpayers the cost of starting from scratch.

Commissioner Lorna Finman, of Rathdrum, told the new commission, “We got down to a point where we needed some legal clarity from the courts. … We expected clarity from the court to close the negotiation we were working on. But due to a procedural technicality that we did not have an agreed-upon map, we were unable to finish the job. We needed five more minutes to come in and finish the job.”

She said, “When that happened, which was unexpected to all of us, we felt an obligation … to not have wasted the taxpayers’ money. … A lot of work was done. … We decided on our own nickel to spend the time and get the job done.”

All six former commissioners signed and submitted letters of support for their new legislative district plan, L-83, and for congressional district plan C-38. However, Finman said, Commissioner Evan Frasure has since expressed reluctance “to go forward with this signed letter.”

Finman said, “Maybe this is like a relay race. We started, we ran hard and fast, and we’re now passing the baton to get to the finish line. … I’m asking you to consider these two maps and all the work and effort that’s gone into them, and to save the taxpayer money. This is a bipartisan map with bipartisan support. We did our best to accommodate all aspects and all criteria that we are faced with. It is a better map than what is out there today.”

‘It was personally powerful’

Former state Sen. Ron Beitelspacher, the new Democratic co-chairman of the Idaho redistricting commission, said of the proposed redistricting plans his predecessors presented: “They put a lot of work into that. We’re going to look at it. … I’m aware of how hard they worked on it. Is it going to be what we vote on, what we adopt? I haven’t a clue.”

Beitelspacher, of Grangeville, said he saw the plan for the first time the day of the presentation, and all six commissioners must mull it and the public input they get as they begin their task.

Beitelspacher said, “It was personally powerful – there was a lot of emotion in that room when they were there. … They traversed a long trail. We want to try to learn the lessons that they have.”

GOP Commissioner Randy Hansen, of Twin Falls, said, “We’ll have the opportunity over the next couple weeks to look at that really seriously.”

The commissioners agreed to a stringent meeting schedule that will have them deliberating all day virtually every weekday from Oct. 11 through Halloween or until they’re done. All have cleared their schedules. “Nobody can get sick,” Hansen said with a laugh.

Democratic Commissioner Shauneen Grange said, “I think it’s the best use of taxpayer dollars, and that we need to get in there and get it done. We’ve got a good group that really wants to move forward.”

Where the money went

The Idaho Legislature budgeted $424,000 for redistricting this year. About $175,000 was spent on hardware, software and preliminary costs. The first commission’s 90 days of deliberations, including 14 public hearings and 24 business meetings, cost about $149,000, and that figure included about $60,000 for technical and administrative support.

Expenses the first time around included about $20,000 for commissioner compensation; $22,000 for GOP partisan mapping assistants and $18,000 for Democratic partisan mapping assistants; and $27,000 for travel, hotel and per diem expenses.

Legislative Services Director Jeff Youtz said, “There’s about $100,000 left, which I think is adequate for the commission to get the job done. We will cover you regardless.” If necessary, the state Board of Examiners will be asked for permission to spend more.

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