A solid line, now looking a little crooked.
Oregon’s new congressional district map was passed in the state Capitol just yesterday, revealing that Deschutes County will be split between two districts for the first time ever.
“This is the first new congressional seat we’ve had in 40 years in Oregon, so it’s a big deal,” said former state representative Judy Stiegler, who now teaches political science at OSU Cascades.
With the addition of Oregon’s sixth congressional district, much of Deschutes County will be pulled into a newly drawn District 5, which includes almost all of Linn County and large portions of Marion and Clackamas Counties.
“It was always inevitable that Bend would, because of its population growth for one thing…it was quite likely that it would end up being included in a different district, that it wouldn’t stay in the second congressional district,” Stiegler said.
The 2020 census helped triggered the need for new district lines, but lumping Bend and Redmond in with areas of southern Portland has some Republicans worried.
“If we have someone now from the federal level that represents us, and they’re from Portland, they’re not going to be advocating for Central Oregon,” Republican Representative Jack Zika of Redmond said.
Zika was among the House Republicans who last week boycotted the legislative session until new maps were drawn, but the new map they got still wasn’t enough.
“Four out of the six congressional districts now touch Multnomah County,” Zika said. “It’s like a pizza slice, we’re coming in and going directly into Multnomah County simply as a gerrymandering technique from the Democrat Party.”
Local Republicans share his concerns.
“The first thing this new district does is include Bend, Sisters, and Redmond but doesn’t include part of Deschutes County even,” Deschutes Republicans Chair and former Deschutes Co. Commissioner Phil Henderson said.
“It also doesn’t reach our neighbors of Klamath, Crook, Jefferson counties, people we work with very closely on a lot of things.”
He feels the current areas included in District 2 are strengthened by the things they have in common.
“If you get a congressman from the northern part of the district, they’re going to be focused on Portland Metropolitan areas and issues, a lot more than our part of it,” Henderson said.
“In our current congressional district, we share a lot of interests with Eastern and Southern Oregon in terms of things like natural resource issues, transportation issues, tourism issues.”
Democrat Representative Jason Kropf of Bend supported the map, saying in a statement Tuesday, “I am appreciative of the thousands of Oregonians who participated as part of this process, and all the work of the redistricting committees in the House and Senate to enable the Legislature to meet its constitutional responsibility.
“These maps meet all statutory requirements and uphold the constitutional principle of one person one vote.”
Right now, GOP legislators are still hoping for a change.
“There’s Fair Maps Oregon, and they have made us aware that they plan on taking this to court, because it’s been gerrymandered,” Zika said. “It’s for the courts to decide how they’ll move forward, if they’ll change the maps, if they’ll just adjust some of the lines, or they’ll just throw them out and re-do it.”
When new districts are solidified in spring of 2022, it’s unclear which way the new District 5 will lean.
“Five, which is currently held by congressman Schrader, that’s more of a toss-up district,” Stiegler said. “It’s not solid one way or the other. There’s a slight Democratic edge I believe in the numbers, but not significant.”
Stiegler is not surprised to see the urban areas of Deschutes County be pulled out of District 2, considering political trends.
“The political structure has been sort of changing over the last 20 years,” she said. “It’s gone from being primarily a Republican-dominant area, to more of a swing, to now it’s leaning more Democrat. But not entirely so…even though Bend itself has more registered Democrats than Republicans, you still have a good pot of folks who are non-affiliated voters.”
According to the Deschutes County Precinct Voter Counts Report, there are currently 47,033 Democratic voters and 44,052 Republican voters in Deschutes County.
Among the voter precincts, 26 of them lean Democrat, and 24 of them lean Republican, although some are nearly equal in number.
Democrats hold majorities in the Oregon Statehouse.
Monday was the deadline for the Legislature to pass the new U.S. House districts or the task would’ve gone to a panel of retired judges.
Zika said there have been plenty of things the legislature has been able to accomplish across party lines, but the redistricting issue only increased the divide.
“When it comes to this partisan politics, line drawing, ‘who’s going to win elections’ stuff, it’s dirty,” Zika said. “It was probably the worst part about being in the legislature, was nights like last night…last night was not a good thing.
“It created a divide…as we were walking out of the building, we weren’t talking to each other. It was very quiet.”