Image for COVID Scare Postpones Possible House Redistricting Showdown

The tension over whether Oregon House Republicans would walk out Wednesday before a special session vote on redistricting plans became moot when a COVID alert abruptly delayed the scheduled floor session until Saturday.

The delay could be divine intervention or simply a postponement of the inevitable walkout to protest House Speaker Tina Kotek’s decision earlier this week to create new Democratically controlled committees to report out congressional and legislative district maps passed by the Senate on Monday. During the 2021 legislative session, Kotek agreed to a partisan-balanced committee to review and advance redistricting maps.

The main bone of contention is the construction of Oregon congressional districts, including a new sixth district. Under the Democratic plan, four of the six districts touch the Portland metropolitan area and have Democratic pluralities. Five of the six districts lean Democratic based on voter registration. Only a far-flung Eastern Oregon district is safely Republican. Non-partisan groups have labeled the Democratic congressional map as gerrymandered.

The redrawn state House and Senate districts were modified in the Senate to satisfy some GOP concerns – for example, two incumbents clumped in a single district were separated into two different districts. However, the congressional map was left untouched, despite GOP protests it was gerrymandered – the new 3rd Congressional District extends from east Portland to Bend – to ensure Democrats win five of the six seats. Incumbent Democratic Congressmen Peter DeFazio and Kurt Schrader raised concerns with Kotek’s original decision, but they were placated with the Democratic congressional redistricting map.

Control of the next Congress is at stake in redistricting in all 50 states. A majority of states, including states with additional congressional seats, are controlled by Republican legislatures that are expected to redraw lines to favor GOP congressional candidates.

The political intrigue may intensify or wane before Saturday when the House has been scheduled to reconvene, only two days before the September deadline.

Kotek, who has announced her Democratic bid for Oregon governor, was rebuked by some Democrats for her deal with House Republicans to give them equal power in redistricting. Her decision to alter the deal, which was revealed earlier this week, was ridiculed by House Republicans and led to speculation that Republican House members may walk out, denying a quorum and preventing votes on both congressional and legislative redistricting.

Kotek gamed out the options and decided her best bet was to change her deal with House Republicans. She made the deal in return for Republicans agreeing to waive a constitutional requirement to read House bills in full before floor votes. Kotek is betting Republicans are willing to allow legislative redistricting to move forward instead of allowing the chore to pass to Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, which could potentially produce a more partisan plan.

The Senate-passed legislative redistricting map slightly favors Senate Democrats and House Republicans. Based on current voting patterns, Democratic control of the House and Senate is likely to continue. Senate Republicans conceded that previous political concerns had been eliminated, even though they opposed the plan moving forward.

The potential House GOP walkout threatens to remove both congressional and legislative redistricting approval from lawmakers before a court-imposed September 27 deadline. Congressional redistricting would move to a court-appointed panel, which may or may not reverse the Democratic congressional map. The Senate adjourned after passing congressional and legislative redistricting maps, leaving no room for the House to make changes.

The political intrigue may intensify or wane before Saturday when the House is scheduled to reconvene, only two days before the September deadline. It could be a game of chicken or the ensuing days could produce a political deal that lets the congressional and legislative redistricting plans advance. It may be the Republican’s best deal in town or it may be an opportunity for them to brand Democrats as extreme Portland partisans.

About the only known outcome is that Kotek solidified her political support among rock-ribbed Democrats, outflanking other would-be Democratic candidates ready to enter the race after the special session, while inflaming GOP hopefuls.