Legislature approves redistricting plan, Kitzhaber to sign it

Legislature approves redistricting plan, Kitzhaber to sign it

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - The Oregon Legislature approved a bipartisan plan Friday to redraw the state's legislative districts and Gov. John Kitzhaber said he would sign it — the first time in decades that the governor and Legislature have successfully redrawn districts.

The compromise plan is based largely on the existing boundaries for state House and Senate districts. Reflecting Oregon's shifting population, the plan increases the influence of Clackamas County, Washington County and Bend at the expense of Portland, eastern Oregon and the coast.

The Senate voted 27-3 and the House voted 47-10 to approve the bill.

Every 10 years, when results of the U.S. Census are released, the Legislature and governor are required to draw new legislative districts with even populations. If they fail, the task falls to the secretary of state. It's an intensely political process with longstanding implications for the partisan makeup of the House and Senate — and for the type of legislation that gets approved.

The compromise plan was hammered out over weeks of private negotiations between Republicans and Democrats.

"It's a plan that's full of thoughtful compromise," said Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend, a Republican negotiator. "It's a plan that's put together by people who had a willingness to put aside our differences and work together."

Despite effusive praise for a rare bipartisan deal, some lawmakers were left disappointed, including Republicans who felt the boundaries benefit Democrats. They're based on the existing map, which was drawn in 2001 by then-Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, a Democrat.

Some Republicans believe Bradbury's boundaries led to Democratic gains over the last decade, but Democrats point out that each party has controlled the state House for two terms and it's currently tied.

"Not everybody has been treated fairly," said House Republican leader Kevin Cameron of Salem. "I will not stand here and say this is a fair plan. But it was the best we could do under the circumstances that we find ourselves in today."

Democrats had a negotiating advantage, because Secretary of State Kate Brown is a Democrat and the Republicans worried they'd have less of a voice if she drew the maps.

Cameron and other Republicans said redistricting shouldn't be done by the Legislature but by an independent panel.

Other dissenters from both parties were opposed to the boundaries in their areas. Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, said his area was gerrymandered to create a safe seat for each party instead of two competitive districts.

Rep. Greg Matthews, D-Gresham, said his hometown was split, with one section becoming part of a district based in Hood River and the other joining with part of Portland.

Lawmakers from Tillamook County opposed it because it split the county into separate districts. Sen. Doug Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, said the same of his area.

"The citizens of upper Rogue are apoplectic with what we've done to their community," Whitsett said.

A City Club of Portland report says that the Legislature hasn't successfully enacted a redistricting plan since 1911. The last time the House and Senate drew a map that was signed by the governor was in 1981, but the plan was challenged in court and the secretary of state ended up changing it.

"In my 27th year, I have never seen this before, and I will never see it again," said Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem. "If that is melodramatic, so be it. But history will write about such one day. "

Cameron, Courtney and others said the Legislature was able to agree on a redistricting plan because of a tie in the House between Republicans and Democrats, as well as Courtney's decision to hand redistricting chores to a committee evenly divided between the parties.

The even split meant neither party could completely control the process, they said.

Negotiators say they're farther apart on finding a compromise map for the U.S. House but are continuing to talk. If they can't reach a deal, federal courts will take up the task.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.