Oregon lawmakers release dueling redistricting plans

SALEM — Oregon Republicans and Democrats released radically different proposals Wednesday to redraw legislative and congressional district maps.

Democrats split up Portland into three districts, giving it three of the state's five congressional seats, essentially modifying the existing map. Republicans meanwhile created a map that merged coastal areas and concentrated heavily Democratic Multnomah County — represented by Reps. David Wu and Earl Blumenauer — into a single congressional district.

Putting Multnomah County into a single district would potentially favor Republicans by taking Democrats out of other districts.

Lawmakers traded plans Friday and plan to meet today to discuss key differences and a workable compromise, said Rep. Shawn Lindsay, a Republican and co-chairman of the House Redistricting Committee. He said each party will put together an itemized list, swap them, and probably return next week to hash out differences.

Lindsay said Republicans have "serious concerns" about the Democratic plan and called the splitting of Portland "dramatic" because only 15 percent of Oregonians live in the city.

"If you hold up our plan to their plan, you can tell me which one is gerrymandered," Lindsay said. "Theirs looks like a Picasso, ours like a nicely patterned quilt, nice and uniform."

Democrats defended their choice to split Portland saying voters in the metro area identified more with that region than the city in which they lived. Rep. Chris Garrett, a Lake Oswego Democrat who worked on the Democrat congressional proposal said the Willamette River has divided congressional districts for decades.

Legislative and congressional maps are redrawn every 10 years according to the most recent Census data. Politicians in Oregon have been unable to reach an agreement on drawing legislative maps since 1981, so the secretary of state has had to do it instead.

In 2001, Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed maps created by a GOP-controlled Legislature. Democratic Secretary of State Bill Bradbury drew the boundaries instead. According to some Republicans, those maps laid the groundwork for Democratic gains over the last decade.

If legislators cannot agree on a redistricting plan by July 1, the drawing of legislative district maps will be done by Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat. If legislators cannot agree on the congressional plan, then the issue may be taken to court for resolution.

Because of this, Republicans have greater incentive to stay at the table and negotiate a compromise. Democrats have a 16-14 majority in the Senate and the House is tied at 30-30.

"If there's ever a chance for (redistricting) to be done legislatively, I think this is the time," said Greg Leo, spokesman for the Oregon Republican Party.

Democrats and Republicans have been working intensely on redistricting efforts since February, holding public hearings across the state.

Oregon law requires redistricting efforts to ensure as much as possible that districts are contiguous; equal in population, respect existing geographic or political boundaries, don't divide communities of common interest; and are connected by transportation links.

Garrett said Wednesday that Democrats have not had much time to analyze the Republican proposal, but "they've made some pretty radical changes to the state Senate map." Democratic complaints include a GOP proposal to merge three coastal districts into two and to split counties in northeastern Oregon into separate districts.

"There's nothing dramatic and radical about the plans we're releasing," Garrett said.

Democrats said they based their proposals as much as possible on the current maps, making adjustments where needed to ensure districts were equal in population under the new data. Republicans said they aimed to increase competition for seats so citizens are better represented.

Republicans said they had at least seven "hotspots" or areas of concern on the Democrats' proposed plan, including the division of Bend into three districts and splitting the majority of the City of Hood River from Hood River County.

Lindsay said Republicans looked over the Democrats' proposed plan last weekend and that Democrats are trying to use redistricting to boost their voter registration advantage by multiple percentage points in five of the six most tightly contested seats.

"The bottom line is by doing all this, there is no way Republicans can win," Lindsay said. "If they choose to continue down this path, they are choosing the partisan route."

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