Redistricting

Political ID-ology

While the political bases on the far right and far left seem to be hardening, there is a growing group of voters who find themselves alienated from both major political parties — and even the political process itself.

Signs of polarization are everywhere. A recent Pew Research survey showed there is a growing gap between dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans on a wide array of issues. There is evidence people are voting with their feet, preferring to live in either a blue or red state, depending on their own political viewpoint.

One contributing factor to partisanship — a byproduct of polarization — is how congressional and legislative districts are drawn. Increasingly, district boundaries have been contoured to make congressional and legislative seats politically "safe" for Democrats or Republicans.

An excellent example of the impact of partisan redistricting is the U.S. House, where many GOP members represent safe districts, often with relatively few Hispanic voters. They don't worry about Republicans winning the White House; they fear being challenged by a more conservative opponent in the next primary, as happened to several Oregon legislators in the May primary.

Which brings us

Republicans Face Uphill Challenge for Control

The battleground for control of the Oregon House and Senate in 2013 is narrow, with perhaps as few as a handful of races to determine which party holds the gavel. It appears Republicans have the most challenging terrain to regain control.

House Republicans surged from a 24-36 deficit in the 2009 session to win six suburban seats, forcing a 30-30 power-sharing agreement in the 2011 and 2012 sessions. Now Republicans have to stand those six seats and pick up at least one more in a swing district to control the House

Control of the Senate more or less boils down to the open Senate seat on the Southern Oregon Coast being vacated by the retirement of Senator Joanne Verger, D-Coos Bay. Unless political wisdom is turned upside down, the seat should stay in Democratic hands with House Co-Speaker Arnie Roblan, D-Coos Bay, winning it.

Jeff Mapes, senior political reporter for The Oregonian, narrowed the contest for control of the House to 10 races. But mid-summer, after fundraising totals and polling results are analyzed, that number probably will dwindle to four or five.

The three GOP freshmen viewed as most vulnerable by Democrats are Reps. Patrick Sheehan of Clackamas, Katie Eyre of Hillsboro and Julie Parrish of West Linn. All have credible, hardworking Democratic opponents.

Republican hopes for pick-ups center on two coastal House seats — Roblan's, which he is vacating to run for the Senate, and Jean Cowan's, which will be open following her retirement. GOP operatives also believe Rep. Betty Komp, D-Woodburn, could be upset with a repeat opponent, Kathy LeCompte, who reportedly is working harder than she did in 2010. She will have to work pretty hard to keep up with Komp.

Two races a little less under the political radar involve Rep. Matt Wand, R-Troutdale, and Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, who have attracted significant opponents. Barker, who has hinted at retirement after the last two sessions, will face GOP newcomer Manual Castenada, whom many observers believe could be a rising GOP political star. Barker, a former Oregon State and Portland police officer, has earned bipartisan respect for his leadership on the House Judiciary Committee.

Control of the House and Senate determines who chairs committees and what legislation will be heard or buried. It also is part of the larger political jockeying with a popular governor in the middle of his third term.

Behind the races on the ballot is political hand-wrestling for dominance in respective caucuses. Here, the most intriguing news is in the House and Senate GOP caucuses. Some observers report a possible competition between more conservative elements of the House GOP caucus and House Co-Speaker Bruce Hanna, R-Roseburg, and his close ally, Rep. Kevin Cameron, R-Salem. If Republicans take control of the House, it might make little political difference. However, if Democrats take control, the conservatives in the caucus may press for more vocal opposition.

The Post-Session Shuffle

Do you hear that sound? That pitter-patter of feet is what's known as the post-session shuffle, where legislators and staff leave their posts to run for office and work for other organizations, or replace those who left. Here's the list of confirmed and rumored switcheroos:

Reps. Mary Nolan, D-Portland (left), and Brad Witt, D-Clatskanie, are leaving the Oregon House to pursue other elected positions.Oregon House

Rep. Mary Nolan, D-Portland, is running for Portland City Council against Amanda Fritz. Sharon Meieran, a lawyer-turned-emergency room doctor, is thinking about running as a Democrat to replace Nolan.

Rep. Jeff Barker, D-Aloha, says he'll likely retire at the end of his term. No word yet on serious candidates looking to replace him.

Grading The Legislative Session: Probably B

At the risk of sounding like a teacher, I would give the legislature about a B grade this session.

Last Thursday at about 2:45 p.m. — a reasonable hour by past standards — the session closed to the normal huzzahs for a job well done. To be sure, the legislature can take credit for accomplishments in the areas of education, health care and redistricting.

In a House marked by split control for the first time in Oregon's history, it would be normal to count the accomplishments; each side was equally in charge, so each would get the credit or the debit.

In the Senate, Republicans, who were in the minority by one vote, came across as more critical, especially in regard to their session-long complaint that there was not enough focus on job creation.

Here are a few perceptions about the legislative session beyond the education, health care and redistricting subjects:

Legislative Redistricting Maps Leaked

Image via The OregonianRepublican and Democrat proposals for redistricting were leaked to The Oregonian today, a few days ahead of a planned public unveiling. Publishing the maps in public before they were ready for primetime could create a kinks in the negotiation process, which reportedly had been going well.

Redistricting Committees in the House and Senate were meeting jointly to hash out the Congressional, State House and State Senate districts based on census data.

The leaked maps reflect population growth in Central Oregon and the Willamette Valley. Democrat maps show an effort to split Portland, a heavily-Democratic area, among three Congressional Districts. Republicans put all of Multnomah County into its own Congressional District.

Shortly after the maps went up on Oregonlive.com, legislative leaders posted the maps on the legislature's redistricting website.

Redistricting Presents an Extra Challenge to Legislature

Along with the first evenly divided House of Representatives in history, and one of the worst budget situations in recent memory, the Oregon state legislature has another hurdle it must overcome: The once-a-decade redistricting that follows the U.S. Census.

The Census Bureau must deliver population data to states for redistricting by April 1, 2011. In Oregon, the regions with the highest growth, and therefore the biggest need for redistricting, are likely to be Portland suburbs and Central Oregon near Bend. The state was 33,000 residents short of gaining a sixth Congressional District, but the lines for the five current districts likely will shift most dramatically around Portland.

Legislators get the first crack at redrawing district lines for the Oregon House and Senate, as well as U.S. Congress. For each legislative body, districts must have roughly an equal number of residents. Lawmakers have failed more often than not in state history to produce a consensus redistricting plan.

The majority party usually tries to leverage redistricting for partisan gain by drawing lines around chunks of supportive voters. With no majority in the Oregon House, Republicans and Democrats may be forced to work together to find a bipartisan agreement on district boundaries.