Oregon lawmakers approved congressional and legislative redistricting plans Monday after enough House Republicans showed up to provide a quorum. The plans passed largely along partisan lines and were sent to Governor Brown by a midnight deadline. Brown indicated she would sign the legislation containing the plans.
House GOP members boycotted a planned legislative special session floor session last week, claiming the Democratic plan for congressional districts was gerrymandered to favor Democrats in five of the six districts. Democrats had proposed a modification that moved fast-growing Bend to a district linked to the eastern Willamette Valley rather than east Portland. That version, further modified, was what ultimately passed the House. The Senate reconvened to approve it later Friday.
Observers speculated that Republicans concluded it was in their best interest to approve the legislative plan that Democrats crafted, which had been judged fair and more balanced. Before approving the plan, the Oregon Senate made changes that responded to Republican complaints.
House Republican Leader Christine Drazan tried to censure Speaker Tina Kotek over perceived mistreatment on the House floor during debate of the measure. Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, announced he won’t seek re-election during the debate and castigated the speaker for her actions during the negotiations, ultimately voting against the plan. Multiple Republicans rose to speak ill of the deal, suggesting the GOP caucus may have been split on strategy.
Legal challenges to congressional redistricting are expected, which could further delay the anticipated rush of candidates to fill Oregon’s new sixth congressional district, which runs along I-5 from Portland suburbs to Salem. Court challenges must be filed by October 12.
Four of Oregon’s current five congressional seats are held by Democrats. As part of the compromise, Democrats made the 5th District seat a toss-up based on party registration. The seat is help by Congressman Kurt Schrader, a moderate Democrat and likely to hold the seat in the 2022 election, which would give Democrats a 5-1 edge in the state’s congressional delegation. All of Oregon incumbent congressional representatives are expected to seek re-election next year.
Observers speculated that Republicans concluded it was in their best interest to approve the legislative plan that Democrats crafted, which had been judged fair and more balanced than the congressional plan.
Outrage by Republicans – and at least one Democrat, Rep. Marty Wilde of Eugene – is mirrored in other states by Democrats objecting to GOP-drawn maps they claim are gerrymandered. Census-driven congressional redistricting has taken on even greater intensity this year because of the 2022 mid-term elections that will determine which party control the House. Democrats hold a slim majority in the current Congress.
Despite the bad feelings and one-day boycott, Oregon lawmakers succeeded in approving congressional and legislative redistricting plans for only the third time since 1910. The plan approved by the legislature in 2011 stood. Other plans failed to make it through the legislature, were vetoed by a governor or were redrawn by courts.
In an interesting twist, Oregon Treasurer Tobias Read chose Monday to enter the 2022 Democratic gubernatorial primary race by issuing a three-paragraph statement. Political observers interpreted the move as Read’s attempt to draw a contrast to House Speaker Tina Kotek, who was sharply criticized by Republicans for reneging on a deal she struck during the 2021 legislative session to give the GOP equal representation on the House redistricting committee. Kotek announced her gubernatorial bid before the special session.