Gov. Kate Brown signed redistricting legislation for Oregon’s congressional and legislative districts on Monday, Sept. 27, after the Legislature passed it just hours before the deadline. This is only the third time the Legislature has passed maps, but don’t mistake that for bipartisanship.
The process was nearly derailed. First, a positive COVID test suspended the special session the governor convened for three days. Then House Republicans prevented a quorum when all but one didn’t show up to the Sept. 25 session in protest of being cut out of the planning.
“The Legislature fulfilled its constitutional duty,” Senate President Peter Courtney said in a press release Monday. “We listened to Oregonians and passed new maps that are fair and accurate. It was a bumpy road from start to finish, but I think history will show we did a good job.”
Redistricting happens every decade after the U.S. Census, but this year’s redrawing of voting districts based on voter populations — and, some allege, insider deals — held special importance because Oregon gained a sixth seat in the U.S. House of Representatives due to population growth over the last decade. However, district maps are being redrawn at every level of government, from the U.S. House down to the Eugene City Council.
Elephant and Donkey Show
Last spring, Oregon Republicans brought the Legislature to a crawl with a slew of delaying tactics during the short session. House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat who represents north/northeast Portland, struck a deal with House Republicans that gave the party equal say on redistricting maps in exchange for a smoother legislative session.
But Kotek rescinded the deal on Sept. 20 when she appointed new members to the redistricting committees to favor Democrats. In protest, House Republicans boycotted the Saturday session and prevented a quorum. But they reconvened Monday and the congressional and legislative maps passed along party lines, despite arguments from Republicans that the maps are gerrymandered and illegal.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan raised a motion to censure Kotek for going back on the deal, but the motion failed.
Drazan said in a release that the fight against the maps will continue in court. “Democrats in Oregon have passed rigged political maps that will guarantee super-sized majorities in the Legislature and immediate control of more than 80 percent of Oregon’s congressional seats,” she said. “They should be ashamed that they have gerrymandered Oregonians out of their shot at fair elections for the next decade.”
The new map adds a sixth seat that will represent Portland suburbs Tigard and Tualatin in the northeast and spread southwest down to Salem and Monmouth, carved out from 1st and 5th districts (held by Democrats Suzanne Bonamici and Kurt Shrader, respectively). It will also move Bend from the Republican-held 2nd District to Shrader’s district.
Eugene will stay firmly in the 4th district, which Peter DeFazio has held since 1987, though the district itself loses Josephine and half of Douglas counties to the 2nd District and Linn County to the 5th District.
The Oregon Legislature also passed the redistricting maps for the Oregon House and Senate, again along partisan lines.
In the Senate, Lane County districts will change dramatically. District 7, which is currently represented by Democrat James L. Manning, will expand to the southwest to represent Veneta but lose Junction City in the northeast. “I am excited to continue to serve the people of Senate District 7 and look to new opportunities to represent communities under the new District 7 according to redistricting criteria,” Manning said in an email.
District 4, represented by Democrat Floyd Prozanzki, will shrink and move north to represent east Eugene and Springfield, down to just north of Cottage Grove.
Rep. Julie Fahey, who represents west Eugene and Junction City, gave a detailed explanation on the House Floor of why she supported the map, noting that River Road and Santa Clara would no longer be split between different districts. “The upshot is — in my neck of the woods, these maps represent a much more rational way to draw the lines than the current districts or than any of the initial committee proposals,” Fahey said. “They keep more communities of interest whole and they were responsive to the significant amount of public input the Legislature received.”
However, Rep. Marty Wilde said he opposed the new lines, saying in a recent interview with Eugene Weekly that not only does his district split neighborhoods, but alleging that pushing back on the maps led to the Senate proposing a gerrymandered map that would make it impossible for him to win reelection. Wilde is unable to comment further or fight the redistricting due to military obligations that prevent him from engaging in certain political acts.
Objections to redistricting decisions can be filed with the Oregon Supreme Court before Oct 25.
Let Your Voice Be Heard
The Lane County Board of Commissioners districts will be redrawn by an independent committee. The 15 members of the Independent Citizen Redistricting Committee include former state Sen. (and periodic EW contributor) Tony Corcoran and former Eugene Mayor Jim Torrey.
The committee will recommend between two and four maps in October, according to the committee bylaws. The Board of Commissioners will select one after a public comment period.
The Eugene City Council will also change the boundaries of its nine wards to rebalance representation as neighborhood populations have grown more lopsided, according to data released by the city of Eugene.
Each ward has a target of 22,118 residents, according to the city of Eugene website. This means redistributing areas in Ward 3 (Alan Zelenka’s ward, representing the University of Oregon campus and Laurel Hill), Ward 5 (where Mike Clark represents Cal Young) and Ward 7 (Whiteaker and River Road neighborhoods, currently represented by Claire Syrett) neighborhoods, where population has increased.
The city has publicized two redistricting proposals. In both, Wards 6 and 8 would expand up to Fairfield Street in the Bethel neighborhood (Ward 6 would take the area north of Royal Avenue, while Ward 8 would take the area south). Ward 1, which represents downtown Eugene, would extend a block east into the West Campus neighborhood under both scenarios as well.
On the east side of Eugene, the proposals differ. In the first proposal, Ward 4 would extend west along Crescent Avenue and Beltline Road, from its current boundary of Gilliam to Norkenzie Road. Meanwhile, Ward 2 would adopt the neighborhood east of Amazon Park.
In the second proposal, Ward 4 would instead extend north along Chuckanut Street to Park Avenue Drive. Ward 2 would encompass Laurelhurst Golf Course.
The city of Eugene is seeking feedback from its residents about the proposals through Oct. 25, and the City Council will make a decision in November. Readers can view the different maps on the city’s website.
See more about Eugene’s redistricting at Eugene-or.gov/4702/Census-and-Ward-Boundary.
This story has been updated to reflect it is River Road, not Junction City that had been split between two districts.