Redistricting snags along party lines

A party-line rift threatens to rupture a legislative effort to redraw Oregon's House, Senate and congressional districts, with both Democrats and Republicans claiming they have devised the better plan.

"It's a train wreck," said Sen. Jason Atkinson, a Central Point Republican who is on the Senate Redistricting Committee. "It's very, very partisan."

Atkinson, who found himself bumped out of his own district in the last redistricting 10 years ago, said it appears the Democrats are trying to create a stalemate that would ultimately work in their favor.

Democrats counter that Republicans failed to justify in writing their criteria for moving district boundaries.

Democrats say the Republican plan not only moves more residents from district to district and tilts swing districts to their advantage, but also doesn't include entire census blocks in a district, which wouldn't meet requirements of the law.

"We didn't make accusations," said Sen. Suzanne Bonamici, a Democrat from northwest Portland who is on the Senate Redistricting Committee. "We're trying to respond with facts."

If the committees can't come to agreement, the redistricting falls to the secretary of state, then possibly to the courts, for resolution. Redistricting is required each decade, after conclusion of the national census.

As an example of the differences, the plan for House District 5, generally considered safely Democratic, would include an area that goes north to White City in the Republican proposal. The Democratic map proposes District 5, now held by Rep. Peter Buckley, D-Ashland, would not reach beyond east Medford.

The resulting lines in that House district may have the biggest impact in the Senate, where incumbent Sen. Alan Bates, D-Medford, narrowly won re-election in November. Bates' Senate District 3 covers the same area as House districts 5 and 6.

Atkinson said he had hoped the committees would correct the wrongs of the current districts, which were devised by the former Secretary of State Bill Bradbury. Atkinson had to move out of Jacksonville to stay in his senate district, while Bates, a former representative, also had to move as a result of redistricting.

Atkinson said his hope was to unite the Applegate Valley into one district.

He said he believed Democrats were purposely trying to sabotage the House and Senate redistricting committee efforts so the redistricting decision would be sent to Secretary of State Kate Brown, a Democrat.

Democrats don't have any serious intentions of redrawing districts through the legislative committees, but have an ulterior motive, he said.

"By not negotiating, they can move the redistricting process to the secretary of state," Atkinson said.

Bonamici, who said Atkinson had attended only a couple of the redistricting meetings, said, "I disagree that it is a train wreck."

She said Republican outrage surprised Democrats, who responded by releasing a detailed rationale behind their redistricting maps, which is statutorily required in the redistricting process.

Both proposals would leave the vast majority of the city of Medford in one House district, but the Democratic proposal would put the easternmost portion of Medford in a House district that includes Ashland, Talent, Phoenix and Jacksonville.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or e-mail

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