Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Redistricting: Regional meetings continue...

There are two common themes in all of the redistricting meetings being held by the joint corporations committee: Every region is adamant that they don’t want any changes in their current districts and that they are unique compared to the rest of the state. Most of those testifying to the committee feel their area should have a waiver from the legal population requirements for one reason or another. The other commonality in these meetings is that the majority of those present are either current or past legislators or public officials. Unfortunately, voters seem to have little interest in this very important issue.

The Powell meeting was held at Northwest Community College and a small group (17) of legislators and public officials participated. All meetings begin with a short tutorial on redistricting presented by the attorney general’s office, which includes a guide to information available on the legislative redistricting web site.

Chairman Case opened the Powell meeting by stating that the committee has made no decisions but is now open to all suggestions and any plan that is sponsored by at least one legislator will go on the web site for review. The Big Horn Basin has lost population so the senate and house districts will have to add population in some way; in addition, the Basin has significant geographical constraints that will make redistricting in that area difficult.

Senator Scott believes locally grown plans are the best plans rather than the committee coming up with a plan. He suggested that the easiest way to add population is to take from Fremont County, as it has gained population and will have to lose some to meet numbers criteria.

Testimony from those present from Big Horn Basin:
1. Senator Coe: Big Horn Basin is a unique area and should be treated as a unit. He also asks if there is a possibility of a waiver of the numbers for Big Horn Basin. States the legislators in the area have been doing a lot of work on their plan.
2. Representative Quarberg: We have looked at different options and would like to remain whole as they are at minus population levels. The legislators have had conversations with surrounding counties and all the conversations have been cordial and after deliberation it seems that adding population from Fremont County would be the best option. (Possibly from Riverton)

There was also testimony that Meeteetsee wanted to stay in Park County as they had common interests with Park County and there would be a fight to stay within that county. Chairman Case encouraged local citizens to get together and iron out local issues of redistricting. Representative Patton concurred and said the committee was not looking for a lawsuit but for reasonable solutions.

Representative Bonner stated the entire Big Horn Basin was committed to staying whole and keeping its current representation. Representative Harvey echoed these sentiments asking the committee to please keep Big Horn community intact. The strengths of the area are that they all work together very well.

Representatives Quarberg and Grear made the presentation to the committee in Worland with a group of 14 citizens and public officials in attendance. Testimony in Worland:

1. Representative Campbell from Fremont County says they don’t have an actual plan yet but have been approached by several other counties to work on one.
2. HD33 makes Fremont County unique as it meets the criteria for a majority minority district and must be protected.
3. The attitude of Fremont County will be to be open to all suggestions as they understand that there will be many changes in order to work out districts.

Dan Neal from the Equality State Policy Center (ESPC) commented on the fact that the ‘one person, one vote’ principle is an important principal, and statements from a committee member that “greedy” people use this to make money off the government were inappropriate. This same committee member made this comment at both meetings saying that if waivers are given to regions, greedy organizations will use it as an excuse to sue and make money. Read more on the ESPC standing up for the 'one person, one vote' principle.

Julie Freese, the Fremont County Clerk, presented Freemont County’s redistricting requests. The County Clerks are working on a redistricting plan to present to the state. Ms. Freese emphasized the importance or protecting HD 33 as minority voting district.

There was testimony that there is little community of interest between Dubois and Jackson. “Jackson Hole might as well be in Greenwich Village, New York.” Dubois wants to be with Fremont County, as they have more of a community of interest with them and feel that have not gotten much attention from current representatives.

“Redistricting is like whack-a-mole. If you change one line, something else has to move too.” (Chairman Case)

Senator Bebout urged the committee to push back against the law because community of interest is more important than deviation in the numbers. Representative Campbell expressed concerns about the confusion with ballots if the county is divided up.

There were 14 in attendance at the Rawlins redistricting meeting. Senator Hicks had asked the clerk to put together a proposal to consider. The proposal is similar to the Martin/Cooper proposal already presented to the committee. The spirit is to align with the principal of community of interest. Representative Steward supports the idea that all representatives and senators run in 2012, and says there is no support for splitting Rawlins’ districts.

The next hearing will be an evening meeting held in Torrington on August 15th. There is some discussion that the committee may add additional sites for hearings.

Click here to watch ACLU’s Laughlin McDonald talk about how politicians can use 'stacking, cracking, and packing' to gerrymander voting districts.