Eugene Weekly : Viewpoint : 11.17.11


Rob Handy’s district gets big conservative infusion with redistricting

The Lane County Charter specifically states that: In accordance with federal, state or county census figures, the boundaries of the five districts shall be drawn by the Board of Commissioners so as not to deny any person equal protection of the law.

 This equal protection of the law clause, a reference to 14th Amendment protection, includes protection against intentional dilution of the “worth” of one’s vote. Redistricting which reflects an effort “to gain political advantage” has, as it goal, that diminishment of the value of a citizen’s vote. A jurisdiction’s charter does not require specific written limitations against gerrymandering to be subject to the limitations provided by our Constitution. Gerrymandering is, by definition, the denial of “equal representation” and violates our Constitution.

In the specific case of the Lane County Commissioners’ adoption of “Proposal #8” we see an egregious action to remove hundreds (likely thousands) of Democratic Party-registered voters from the North Eugene commissioner’s district and thrust them into the South Eugene commissioner’s district. The unique characteristics of both districts and the specific targeting of an easily identified Democratic Party-aligned neighborhood documents this action as blatant gerrymandering.

 The South Eugene District is the most heavily Democratic Party-registered voters’ district in Lane County. It has, for years, elected and reelected the most liberal member of the Board of Commissioners. It is so recognized as a bastion of Democratic Party and liberal strength that the Republican Party and conservative political groups simply don’t bother to run “serious” campaigns to win this commissioner’s seat. Therefore, a gerrymandering plan to “pack” this district with more Democrats will not increase the likelihood of a Democratic/progressive commissioner’s victory or decrease the likelihood of a Republican/conservative’s defeat in the South Eugene district. It’s already considered as one of the “safest” electoral districts in the state of Oregon.

 The North Eugene commissioner’s district, on the other hand, is a very “mixed” district. While it has a majority of Democratic Party-registered voters, it is far from the left-dominated district the South Eugene commissioner’s district represents. Elections have been extremely competitive with the current liberal commissioner seated after a 2008 victory over a conservative incumbent by a margin of about 250 votes. In political jargon, the North Eugene district is very much “in play” for the upcoming 2012 election. Moreover, a very conservative Eugene city councilor has declared his intention to run for the North Eugene commissioner’s position. So an upcoming election between a Democratic Party/progressive incumbent and a Republican Party/conservative challenger is virtually guaranteed. That race is also guaranteed to be heavily financed, heavily fought and, of course, extremely competitive.

 The neighborhood targeted by Proposal #8 to be moved to South Eugene is very unique in our community. The West Jefferson/ Whiteaker neighborhood of the North Eugene district is a mix of apartments and single-family homes occupied by working-class voters. It is also one of the most ethnically and culturally diverse neighborhoods in Eugene and is recognized across Eugene as a left-leaning, progressive neighborhood. The very heavy Democratic voter registration in the neighborhood attests to this fact. 

 The commissioner’s redistricting plan (Commissioner Jay Bozievich’s Proposal #8) removes more than 9,000 residents of this neighborhood from the North Eugene district and thrusts them into the South Eugene district. This transfer removes hundreds (actually likely thousands) of clearly identifiable Democrats (and, therefore, more likely supporters of the liberal candidate in the upcoming election) from the competitive North Eugene district and moves them into the South Eugene district. The redistricting gives a huge political advantage to the conservative candidate in the upcoming North Eugene race.

Bozievich’s Proposal #8, adopted by a 3-2 vote of the commissioners, is a poster child for gerrymandering. It gives demonstrable political advantage to the Republican/conservative candidate in the North Eugene district. In fact, if it stands, it will virtually guarantee his election. This action by the conservative commissioners (Bozievich, Faye Stewart and Sid Leiken) represents everything which is wrong with politics today. It is incumbent on us, as responsible citizens of Lane County, to see that it is overturned. 

Gary Crum of Junction City is a retired teacher and counselor who worked with dysfunctional adolescents over a 28 year career in public schools, probation facilities and residential treatment facilities.