Image for Redistricting Battle Leaves Bad Blood in the House

Redistricting battles in state legislatures are often bruising. Oregon’s just completed redistricting exercise is a case in point, which has generated bad blood on both sides of the political aisle that could have repercussions in the 2022 short session.

Legislative Republicans are furious at Democratic Speaker Tina Kotek for breaking a deal she engineered during the 2021 legislative session to agree to an evenly split House Redistricting Committee. They said their trust in Democratic leadership has been broken.

Democrats say Republicans never seriously collaborated on redistricting, choosing instead to develop their own maps, refuse to compromise and complain. Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, who led Democratic redistricting efforts, said, “House Republicans were not playing ball.” Kotek echoed Salinas, saying House Republicans didn’t engage when the chips were down to reach “consensus and compromise”.

In 11th-hour negotiations, House Democrats made a significant change in congressional districts, linking Bend to the 5th District held by Congressman Kurt Schrader instead of the Portland-centered 3rd District represented by Congressman Earl Blumenauer. Republicans weren’t satisfied. 

Kotek was lambasted as Republicans aired their grievances in harsh floor statements and showed their displeasure with a one-session boycott. After the House voted along party lines Monday to approve congressional and legislative redistricting plans, Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, moved to censure Kotek.

Citing the broken redistricting deal, she said: “Tina Kotek has exhibited disorderly conduct….The inability of the Speaker of the House to keep her word or conduct her affairs in the execution of her duties at the highest ethical standards affects our ability as a body to function…. We cannot silence the voices of the minority when they are inconvenient to the majority.” Drazan said she expected reprisals for her motion.

Kotek, who is running for governor, shrugged off the censure motion, which failed by a 33-14 vote. She pinned the blame on Drazan for her decision to appoint new redistricting committees. “I’ve had my challenges with Republican leaders, but not to the level that I’ve had with Leader Drazan,” Kotek said. “I think you should ask her why she has such a difficult time succeeding for her caucus… I have a track record working across the aisle with everybody. My problem lies with her.”

Two House Democrats voiced displeasure with the process and voted against the Democratic-backed legislative redistricting plan. Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, who was left out of his existing House district, complained of gerrymandering. Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, said, “You cannot go back on your word. It was bipartisan or nothing . The change in process is more than I can stomach.” After the vote, Clem indicated he wouldn’t seek re-election and said the damage to future House collaboration was “irreparable”.

Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Happy Valley, announced she will make another run to become House Speaker in 2022. She challenged Kotek before the 2021 session and withdrew after a handshake agreement with the Speaker. “We’re definitely going to have to do some repair work between now and then,” Bynum said. “Otherwise, I think people will decide not to run. It’s terribly frustrating to be caught in the middle of that and to feel powerless.”

We’re definitely going to have to do some repair work between now and then.

A spokesperson for Kotek indicated she plans to remain Speaker through the short 2022 legislative session, implying she may step down afterward to focus on the May 17 Democratic gubernatorial primary.

OPB reports the No More Costly Walkouts coalition is considering ballot measures aimed at penalizing future lawmakers who boycott floor sessions to block legislative action or slow down floor voting by requiring bills to be read in full.