Honest Effort

I felt a great sense of relief Thursday, January 27th when the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the legislative redistricting map. I had worked very hard with my fellow commissioners, and I didn’t want to have to start over. There is still a pending lawsuit over the Congressional map. So maybe that one will require more work. I hope not.

It was a grueling process. And the legal requirements for drawing maps were layered and complex. But we got the map drawn and submitted ahead of our deadline, and it stood up to ISC scrutiny. That made me proud.

We traveled all over the state taking public testimony. That is a legal requirement of the commission to take public testimony. I believe it makes good sense.

The people of Idaho established the redistricting process through a Constitutional amendment back in 1994. Prior to that the legislature had done it. I heard there were fistfights amongst legislators back when they haggled over maps, so maybe they were glad to be rid of the task.

We were between COVID waves. Only one of us got sick, and he survived, thank the Lord. But I sure got tired from all the meetings and travel. I hope I didn’t get grumpy. Martha put up with me graciously.

Listening to hours of public testimony, in my opinion, though difficult, honored the public and important nature of the process. There were no fist fights, only a few uncivil words, no threats, but amazing participation. Folks had a genuine interest in how their legislative and congressional districts would be formed, as they should. We got good input about where the lines should be. It was incumbent on us commissioners to honor that public process and I believe we did.

The commission is also legally forbidden to consider incumbents or political influence in the map drawing. This is despite being political appointees. We were a Bipartisan Commission, not independent. Three were appointed by majority party, three by minority. Then after we were commissioned, we needed to take off those partisan hats and do work for the welfare of the state. I feel comfortable saying we did that very well.

Another instruction to the commission was to avoid “oddly shaped districts”. But when counties are odd and you can’t split them, some oddness is going to occur.

I can’t claim the map is pretty. Idaho is a beautiful state, but we are very oddly shaped. Further, the commission is instructed to avoid splitting counties. And some county’s shape is grotesque. So, I gave up on a pretty map early on.

Frequent public testimony expressed just who the testifier saw as part of their “community of interest”, since that is another instruction to the commission: respect communities of interest. Unfortunately, nowadays folks often see a community of interest as whoever thinks, and votes like them. “We don’t want to be tied to that county. We have nothing in common with them!” That county votes Democratic, and this county is deep Red. Both counties have cattle, have sagebrush and schools, raise their kids. But the fear that whatever district they might end up in might elect a representative of a different political party got lots of folks riled up.

But the law is pretty clear on how we commissioners should do our job: Counties shall not be divided to protect a particular political party or a particular incumbent. IC 72-1506(8)

The six of us commissioners with staff and laptops covered the state. We totaled 18 public hearings, over 30 hours of testimony from hundreds of people. We received hundreds of written or email comments and had over 80 maps submitted electronically for our consideration. I can’t know if such effort made us draw better maps, just like I can’t know if an immunization will save my life. But I am glad we made the effort. It was the right thing to do.

About ddxdx

A Family physician, former county coroner and former Idaho State Senator
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