The way the Oregon Legislature is redrawing the maps that determine the districts of elected state officials is problematic, alleges State Rep. Marty Wilde.
Every 10 years, the U.S. Census Bureau conducts a population count that leads to a reassignment of the number of congressional members in each state as well as the Electoral College. The Oregon Legislature uses that data to redraw its political districts, which includes 30 state senators, 60 state representatives and (now) six U.S. congressional seats as Oregon has gained a seat due to population growth.
Wilde, a Democrat whose district includes the University of Oregon neighborhood and rural parts of Lane and Linn counties, alleges that the Senate Redistricting Committee is backscratching and punishing those who call it out. The result, he says, will be gerrymandered legislative maps that could result in court challenges.
Gerrymandering is the practice of drawing districts to favor a political party or racial group. The practice often skews elections, makes races less competitive and hurts communities of color.
According to the Oregon Constitution, if the state Supreme Court rules that the district redrawings don’t follow the law, it’ll send the maps to the secretary of state along with a written opinion that specifies how the redistricting fails the law.
“I’ve been clear since I took office that my district was inappropriate and that it didn’t follow the criteria particularly to not divide communities of interest but also the requirements that follow geographic and political boundaries,” Wilde says of his current district, which was drawn in 2011. “The Republicans agreed with me and that was something that was going to be fixed.”
Wilde adds that he experienced pushback from the Senate members, who told him that he shouldn’t say that about his district. And in an email he sent to Oregon House Democrats, obtained by EW, he says after speaking out about the Senate Redistricting Committee’s earlier proposed map, the adopted map made his district unwinnable.
Wilde writes in the email that he’s going to oppose the Legislature’s maps. The Legislature adopted maps proposed by the Senate Redistricting Committee “don’t have a guiding principle,” other than the desires of the Senate, he writes.
Wilde tells EW that Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis (who in 2020 recruited her sister to run against Wilde) also spoke out about the Senate committee’s redistricting, and she called for a nonpartisan approach.
“If you look at Rep. Boshart Davis’s residence in the A Map, she would basically walk into a safe R Senate seat. But she spoke up as well,” Wilde writes in the email. “And for it, she was also punished. The new district boundary literally runs down the wrong side of her property.”
On Aug. 12, the Legislature received population data from the U.S. Census Bureau. An initial map was released on Sept. 3, and the deadline for the public to submit maps was Sept. 8, which included the A Map that Wilde refers to. The Senate Redistricting Committee released the maps the Legislature will discuss — and that Wilde says he opposes — on Sept. 20.
The Senate-proposed map places Wilde in a redistricted House District 12. Describing his new district, Wilde says as proposed by the Senate Redistricting Committee, it stretches from his university neighborhood, goes south to Cottage Grove, east to Oakridge, then Blue River, around Marcola, west to Coburg, then Junction City, and finally and lastly to Cheshire. “It is a classic gerrymander,” he adds.
“It’s clearly a map to punish me by putting me in a district that I can’t win and to benefit sitting politicians,” he says. He adds that the redistricting process isn’t about accounting for his political career, but the Senate didn’t have a reason for the drawing. “To punish me and my entire neighborhood with a map that is gerrymandered is offensive.”
Wilde says his district that’s been proposed by the Senate committee could likely be the whitest district in the entire state, a departure from the constituents he represents today. The current house district that he represents includes diversity in the Glenwood area, Moon Mountain and the university area. But he says his new proposed district isn’t diverse at all except for a sliver of the university area.
Wilde says he’s been on duty with the Air National Guard during the redistricting special session.
If the Oregon Legislature doesn’t approve the redrawn maps by Sept. 29, Secretary of State Shemia Fagan would take over the task. Fagan would redraw the Oregon Legislature districts — House and Senate.
And if the Legislature is unable to pass redistricting the federal congressional seats (which involves adding a new congressional district to the state), Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walters would form a judicial panel to reapportion the districts.
“These maps prove that the Legislature can’t be trusted to follow the law,” Wilde says. “I can’t promise that Secretary Fagan will follow the law either, but we’ve clearly failed, so I think she deserves a chance to do better.”
When Fagan ran for the secretary of state seat in 2020, she told EW that she would bring together a committee of underrepresented voices to redraw the Legislature districts. On Aug. 5, Fagan announced in a press release that she was inviting residents to apply to serve on the Oregon People’s Commission on Redistricting should the Legislature miss its Sept. 27 deadline. If that happens, she said, the commission would meet on Sept. 29.
Gov. Kate Brown can also veto the Legislature’s redistricting bills. If she signs the redistricting bills into law, individuals or groups can challenge the law in the Oregon Supreme Court.
Wilde says as the maps are drawn right now wouldn’t pass a court review. Oregon statute sets several rules for redistricting. Among other expectations, the districts must be connected by transportation links and not drawn to benefit incumbents or favorable to any political party.
“What this practice has taught me is that nonpartisan advocates are correct: the Legislature can’t be trusted to ignore politics,” Wilde says. “There’s been too much back-scratching going on, and that’s disturbing. I had wished for better from my colleagues. I wished we had followed the law. We make the law so it’s the least we can do.”