Legislators hold redistricting hearing at PSU

Oregon’s House and Senate redistricting committees visited Portland State on Friday to hear public feedback on the plan to redraw Oregon’s state legislative lines.

Oregon’s House and Senate redistricting committees visited Portland State on Friday to hear public feedback on the plan to redraw Oregon’s state legislative lines.

The hearing, which was held in the Chancellor’s Office in the Academic and Student Recreation Center, was part of a series of public hearings. Roughly 60 community members showed up for the event. 

The latest census data revealed a 12 percent growth for the state of Oregon since 2000, which now stands at 3,831,074. The problem for the 60 state representatives and 30 state senators is how to draw the district lines while maintaining what the law requires.

Each House district should have a population of approximately 63,851, while state Senate districts should have a population of approximately 127,702 and encompass two state House districts. After the release of the most recent census, however, some districts are below the required population, while others are above.

This leaves a tough task for legislatures who must try to create new district lines while maintaining districts of common interest. Districts are drawn this way so that elected officials, as well as the communities themselves, have a contiguous relationship with one another.

These district lines have come under fire in the past, and though law prohibits diluting the voting strength of minority groups, states have been accused of gerrymandering. A few of the requirements that the Legislative Assembly or the secretary of state have to consider districts as are contiguous, of equal population, utilize existing geographic boundaries, do not divide communities of common interest and be connected by transportation links.

Representative Chris Garrett (D-Lake Oswego), co-chair of the redistricting committee, noted the importance of public meetings like this.

“Mistakes do happen. In 2000, 38 percent of state Senate and House districts went unchallenged,” Garrett said.

Karl Twombly, who works for the Portland City Club’s redistricting research group, discovered one such mistake. Twombly lived in King City, Ore. until areas of his neighborhood were redrawn. He therefore found himself living in “unidentified Washington County,” rather than King City.  

 “[Portland City Club] is looking into what components work, and whether an independent initiative, a proposal that recently failed, would work better in the drawing of these district lines,” Twombly said.

The three-minute panels had groups lobbying for their interests, backgrounds and ethnicity. Julia Markeley testified that Asia and Pacific Islanders make up 4 percent of Oregon’s population, but are also the second fastest growing.

“I encourage you to consider race in your redistricting,” Markeley said.

Shawn Lindsay, who represents House district 30 encompassing Hillsboro and North Portland, said he is new to the redistricting process.

“One of the most important things is to have as much transparency as possible. It’s open to everybody,” Lindsay said. “[Everybody] gets to hear and everybody gets to comment. The more transparency the better result.”

One issue that was brought up was the idea of an independent panel for redistricting, a process that California voted for this past year.

“I’m holding off on that opinion right now because I frankly don’t know,” Lindsay said. “There’s a bill out to consider it, reason being some people think it will get rid of any type of politics. Let’s see how this goes; let’s digest it—we’ll make legislative tweaks if necessary. Maybe this is the best make up; we have 50 percent [Democrats] and 50 percent [Republicans] on both committees, and maybe if we get it done then that’s the solution.”

The governor must sign the bill by July 1, 2011. If he has not signed it by then, it will automatically go the secretary of state, who will have until September.

To submit a testimony or to find out more information on redistricting, visit www.leg.state.or.us/redistricting/. ?