SALEM — Oregon Democrats say Secretary of State Dennis Richardson’s brand-new political redistricting plan for after the next census in 2020 is dead on arrival.
“This is a waste of taxpayers’ money,” said Jeanne Atkins, the Oregon Democratic Party chair and former secretary of state.
Richardson, the state’s only Republican statewide officeholder, announced Monday that a task force he created in February would draw the district lines. An 18-page constitutional amendment would go on the ballot for voters to approve or reject.
The panel plus voter approval would end a process Richardson said can “stack the deck” in favor of the party in power. Atkins shot back that the plan was “gerrymandering,” the term for creating districts that are drawn to ensure a predetermined outcome.
The secretary of state already has a role in redistricting, albeit as a safety net.
After each census, new lines are drawn for Oregon’s 30 state Senate and 60 state House seats.
Also rearranged are the U.S. House districts. There are currently five seats, though population shifts may give Oregon a sixth district.
Under current state law, the Legislature elected in 2020 would draw the district maps in 2021, which could be reviewed by the Oregon Supreme Court.
With both the House and Senate held by solid Democratic majorities, the party isn’t anxious to give outsiders the task of redrawing the lines.
Only if the Legislature failed to come up with a map would the secretary of state take over. Now Richardson wants to give a commission the key role.
Soon after becoming the first Republican to win statewide office since Gordon Smith won a seat in the U.S. Senate in 2002, Richardson started looking ahead to 2020. In February, Richardson created a 13-member Independent Redistricting Task Force to start planning for an alternative to having the Legislature draw the lines.
Bend has two members, Rep. Knute Buehler and Sen. Tim Knopp, both Republicans.
One of the key features touted by Richardson at the time was being more inclusive of smaller political parties. Representatives of the Pacific Green Party, Progressive Park and Independent Party were included.
Critics swooped in to point out the panel included one Democratic lawmaker (Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha), one woman (Rep. Julie Parrish, R-West Linn) and one minority (Independent Party chairman Sal Peralta).
There is still plenty of time for change in redistricting. A possible statewide initiative that would put a commission in charge could be on the 2018 ballot. That would pre-empt another scenario: Richardson either not running for re-election or losing to a Democrat in 2020.
— Reporter, 541-525-5280 or email@example.com
Editor’s note: This article has been corrected. The original version misstated the year in which district maps will be redrawn. The Bulletin regrets the error.