Image for US Census Maps Officially Start the Redistricting Dash

Oregon lawmakers received this week detailed 2020 Census data and maps, which show the population in Deschutes County climbed by almost 26 percent since 2010. That growth is likely to make the Bend area the fulcrum of attention for carving out Oregon’s new congressional district.

Senate and House redistricting committees face a challenging task of approving congressional and legislative district lines by September 28. They will hold a series of public hearings starting, perhaps coincidentally, in Bend September 8 and continuing through September 13 when three separate virtual hearings will be held.

Before Census data arrived, redistricting committee members and their staff already possessed a good idea of where population growth has occurred in Oregon over the last decade, using data provided by Portland State University’s Population Research Center, which is used by the state, municipalities and school districts in between census-taking. The Census data is needed to verify population densities down to the level of neighborhoods.

According to the legislative redistricting website, Oregon’s population totals 4,237,256, which requires each congressional district to contain 706,209 residents. The average population in each state Senate district will be 141,242 and each Oregon House district will average 70,621 residents.

The Oregonian published an interactive map based on US Census data showing the growth rate of each of Oregon’s 36 counties. Crook County, which borders Deschutes County to the east, achieved the second highest population growth over the last decade at almost 18 percent. Polk County was third at a 16 percent growth rate. Jefferson County, which sits on the north border of Deschutes County, grew by almost 13 percent.

The largest actual population growth was in the Portland metropolitan area with Washington County at 13.3 percent, Clackamas County at 12.1 percent and Multnomah County at 10.9 percent. The three-county metro area now is home to 1,837,201 Oregonians. The Willamette Valley, including Marion, Linn and Lane counties, registered growth rates of between 9 to 10 percent. Jackson County grew 10 percent.

Every Oregon county but one marked some population growth. The exception was Grant County, which lost 2.8 percent of its 2010 population.

​​State Economist Josh Lehner said Oregon’s population grew faster in the first part of the last decade before tailing off in last three years. He noted the decade started as the nation emerged from a global financial crisis and ended with a global pandemic.

Damon Runberg, the Oregon Employment Department’s regional economist for the eastern part of the state, said the Bend area has seen the growth of small professional firms that relocated from urban areas where housing had become less affordable. The economic lockdown during the pandemic accelerated a trend of working remotely and from remote communities, he explained.

“The Bend economy has had these major transitions in its history, from being a timber town to transitioning to tourism to a lot of growth over the last decade of more professional-type jobs, becoming more representative of a traditional metropolitan economy,” Runberg told The Oregonian. “I think that trend is the one we’re going to see continue going forward.”

The Bend economy has had these major transitions in its history, from being a timber town to transitioning to tourism to a lot of growth over the last decade of more professional-type jobs, becoming more representative of a traditional metropolitan economy.

That trend also may make Bend the bullseye of lawmaker deliberations of where to center the new, sixth congressional district. Of the five sitting Oregon congressional representatives, three are from the Portland area, one from Eugene and one from Ontario. Four are Democrats and one is Republican.

There are guidelines for drawing congressional and legislative districts, but an unavoidable political consideration tends to be protecting existing congressional representatives. Oregon also faces the logistical dilemma of the sprawling, 70,000-square-mile 2nd District, covering most of Eastern Oregon and stretching into Southern Oregon. The 2nd District in 2019 included 841,022 residents, which would be around 140,000 more residents than newly drawn Oregon congressional districts.

The House Redistricting Committee has three Democratic members and three Republican members, including House Minority Leader Christine Drazan. Its Senate counterpart has three Democrats and two Republicans, including the vice chair, Senator Tim Knopp from Bend. “The focus will be to balance communities of interest and prevent gerrymandering, such as rural communities being dominated by urban population centers or coastal areas dominated by territories inland,” Knopp said in his letter to constituents. “We must ensure that all voices and votes have equal value in our republic.”