Now that it’s official Oregon will receive a sixth congressional seat in 2022, state lawmakers must decide where it will go.
In a May 6 public hearing, House Special Committee on Redistricting co-chair Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis pointed out that that three of the state’s five current congressional districts touch Portland and Multnomah County. Four of the state’s five congresspeople are Democrats, while just 35.3% of registered voters are Democrats and 25.1% are Republicans. Nearly 33% of voters are nonaffiliated.
Davis, a Republican from east of Albany, said it was striking how many residents of the 1st Congressional District objected to northwest Portland’s Pearl District being included in the largely rural jurisdiction. It covers virtually all of Washington county, including Tigard, Beaverton and Hillsboro, and takes in most of Northwest Portland before stretching through rural Columbia and Clatsop counties to reach the state’s northwest coast, from just south of Cannon Beach up to Astoria. Oregon’s 1st District is currently represented by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from a Washington County suburb just west of Portland’s West Hills.
“I just remember hearing that more often than anything else,” said Boshart Davis.
Some of the people who testified at a March 20 online public hearing for residents of the district suggested “creating a single contiguous coastal district,” and more than 70 of the 109 pieces of written testimony raised concerns about the district “stretching from (the) coast and Columbia River to (the) Pearl District in Portland.”
Proponents of a contiguous coastal district included Rep. Mike Nearman, a Republican from outside Independence whose state House district overlaps the 1st Congressional District, although he does not live in the 1st District. He testified in support of the idea at the March public hearing and noted the coast is currently split among three congressional districts, all of which overlap his state House district. “I think … the people of the state of Oregon would be better served if they had a contiguous economic and cultural district that was the coast,” he said. “It’s a tourism and natural resource extraction district there. If that were to happen, that would cause the other districts to fall into place a little better.”
Some Democrats on the redistricting committees disagreed. Rep. Wlnsvey Campos, a Democrat from Aloha, questioned whether enough people live along the coast to provide the roughly 706,000 residents that Oregon must aim to include in each new congressional district.
“Even if you have a district that spans the entire coast … it sounds like a math problem, like that there aren’t enough people living just on the coast to create their own congressional district,” said Campos. She suggested a coastal legislative district would need to extend inland to encompass enough people.
The Oregonian/OregonLive’s preliminary analysis of 2015-2019 American Community Survey tract-level population data suggests lawmakers would indeed have to include communities far from the coast on the east side of the Coast Range, although not nearly as far as current coast districts stretch into the center of the state.
At the May 6 redistricting committees’ meeting to review testimony, Rep. Daniel Bonham, R- The Dalles, pointed out that electoral districts are supposed to keep “communities of interest” intact to the extent possible so they have effective representation, and he suggested the Oregon coast has “economic, social, cultural, geographic” ties. “I couldn’t agree more with these folks that have expressed concerns about the Pearl District and the coast being together,” Bonham said. “So that would be an area I would look to try to find if we couldn’t find a different community that made a little more sense to find that population necessary to get it to equal representation.”
About 45,000 of the district’s 577,000 registered voters, or fewer than 8%, live in Northwest Portland. Population wide, Washington County, with its 386,000 registered voters, dominates the district. Clatsop County, including Astoria, Seaside and Cannon Beach, has just over 30,000 registered voters.
Rep. Khanh Pham, a Democrat from southeast Portland, noted that the section of northwest Portland in the 1st District includes shipping infrastructure, a similarity to the importance of maritime transport along the Lower Columbia River and Port of Astoria. “There’s actually industrial connections that we may want to be recognizing,” Pham said.
Oregon’s constitution does not contain a deadline for the Legislature to complete congressional redistricting, but state law allows any elector to petition the Marion County Circuit Court if lawmakers fail to produce new congressional districts by Aug. 1 or the governor vetoes the plan. Electors can also petition the court if they dislike a plan passed by the Legislature, a route that opponents of redistricting plans have taken in the past.
The Senate and House redistricting committees are scheduled to hold another meeting at 5:30 p.m. Thursday to continue going over testimony received in earlier public hearings. Members of the public can watch the meeting online.
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