Monday, September 12, 2011

Redistricting Reboot

Posted By on Mon, Sep 12, 2011 at 8:30 PM

Secretary of State Ben Ysursa was forced to drop a bomb on Idaho's redistricting process Monday.

When the six-member redistricting committee adjourned without a plan on Sept. 6, it was effectively dissolved. Due to a 2009 legislative statute banning commissioners from serving a second term, they won't get the opportunity to return to the drawing board. Instead six new commissioners will be appointed and the process will start all over again.

"I am not aware of any precedent for this precise situation," wrote Dr. Gary Moncrief, a professor of political science at Boise State and redistricting guru. "This situation is largely due to the particulars of the constitutional requirement: an even number of commissioners—six—and a statutory requirement [that] commissioners can't serve again."

Couple that with a constitutionally-limited 90-day working period and the added baggage of a host of state-specific issues.

After the bipartisan committee failed to meet its deadline, the Republican members sued the entire commission—including themselves—for not having a proposal. They deferred to the Supreme Court for guidance. Ysursa also sued, asking Idaho's high court to send the commission back to work. Instead, the court declared it had no authority over the commission. It only has jurisdiction, it claimed, if the commission agrees on a map.

In their lawsuit, the Republicans cited the need for clarification from the Supreme Court regarding the hierarchy of statutory and constitutional stipulations. Essentially the Republicans wanted to know if the statutes from the Legislature were to be followed as rigorously as the federal and state constitutional requirements. Sound complicated? It is.

"I think the Republican commissioners made every effort to not agree to a settlement," Democratic commissioner and committee co-chair Allen Anderson told Boise Weekly. "They weren’t willing to compromise on anything."

Anderson claims that in the last 45 minutes of the commission's life, the Republican members put forth eight to 10 maps, with varying degrees of adherence to concerns they had voiced throughout the process. He claims they wouldn't agree to any attempts to reach across the aisle.

In a statement from the Democratic members of the commission, they claimed the Republicans were consumed with adhering to both statutory and constitutional stipulations with the same level of consideration.

The Supreme Court held in Bingham v. Idaho Commission for Reapportionment (2002) that statutes must be considered but they are subordinate to the Constitutional standard of voter equality and the restrictions in the Idaho Constitution. They wrote: "Simply stated, constitutions come first."

Tim Hurst of the Idaho Secretary of State's Office agreed.

"In that case, it specifically said the top two things to consider were the population distribution, which is One-Person, One-Vote, and then the county splits," Hurst said. "If the statutory thing causes a change in the other two ... you throw the statutory thing out."

In an op-ed published on August 24 on, the Republican commission members said the Democrats had done something similar earlier in the process. They chronicled an initial honeymoon period of non-partisan teamwork but claim the Democrats refused to negotiate any further.

"Essentially, while on the cusp of agreeing to a congressional map and moving on to the more difficult task of drawing 35 legislative districts, the three Democratic commissioners suddenly reversed course and refused to vote on a map to which both sides had indicated they were agreeable," they wrote. "It was clear that this was being done as part of a hardball, union-style negotiating tactic."

On Sept. 9, Jonathan Parker, the Idaho Republican Party's executive director wrote: " became painfully obvious that the Democrat commissioners came in with a predetermined plan to leverage their spot at the table and engage in classic, hard-ball, teamster union tactics that doomed the 90-day process."

Some critics claim that the even-steven split of the commission does not reflect the voter's choices and that the Democrats wield too much power in the process given their small representation in Idaho. However, the original process, with legislators drawing the lines themselves, didn't work either. Before One-Person, One-Vote, legislators in many states would continue to draw lines to keep themselves in power.

The Republican commissioners could not be reached for comment, but BW spoke with Parker.

"As my opinion piece states," Parker said, "the system is just designed for failure with an even-numbered commission. Obviously our maps took into account the constitutional stipulations as well as the statutory stipulations."

The final plan that the Republicans proposed split fewer counties than the Democrat's plans. And it followed the constitutional and statutory stipulations, said Parker. As for an alternative to the process, Parker wasn't sure of an answer.

"I don’t know the solution. I think there’s a lot of options," Parker said. "One of those options is that we could kick it back to the Legislature. I think there’s other ideas that should be considered."

Anderson thinks it's more overt.

"I think it was a blatant effort to torpedo the commission," said Anderson. "They’re just trying to make a case and say, ‘See? Look, it doesn’t work.' It would’ve worked had they wanted it to. I was very disappointed, and I think it does a disservice to the state. I didn’t sign up just to go away empty-handed."

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