Most of the delegates attending the Idaho Republican State Convention in Idaho Falls are focused on the November election, but some time Friday was devoted to potential changes that could affect the makeup of the Idaho Legislature for the next decade.
The party’s Redistricting Advisory Task Force met on Friday to discuss the party’s strategy for drawing up legislative and congressional districts based on new data from this year’s census. A bi-partisan panel will map out new legislative districts next year. Those new districts would be in place for the 2012 election.
Members of the GOP task force and state lawmakers attending the meeting said they need to be more prepared for legislative reapportionment, and that during the last redistricting in 2001, several of the districts favored Democrats. Republicans hold large majorities in both the Idaho House and Senate. A newly redrawn map next year could tilt the state further to the right or left.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said he wants the three Republican members of the redistricting commission to hang tough and not give in to the three Democratic commissioners. “We should go in there with a plan that’s already developed a month or two ahead of time,” he said.
The top Republican and Democrat in the Idaho House and Senate will each pick a redistricting commission. The party leaders will likely pick the other two commissioners.
Republicans on the task force criticized several of the current legislative districts. Two east Idaho districts are drawn around the cities of Pocatello and Idaho Falls—those more urban districts could favor Democrats.
Task force members also panned some large districts spanning several counties because it’s difficult to drive from one end of a district to another on state roads. Rep. JoAn Wood, R-Rigby, who serves a multi-county district in east Idaho, said some districts should be drawn more tightly.
“You’ve got to be independently wealthy to run in those districts, because you’ll wear your car out,” Wood said. She said besides fuel costs, it can be difficult to connect to constituents who are spread out.
The Legislature passed a rule telling the reapportionment panel that multi-county districts should be connected by a state or federal highway. Senate President Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, said that requirement ensures that districts reflect connected communities.
Republicans said they want to draw a clean map. “This is a Republican state,” said Evan Frasure, a former Republican lawmaker from Pocatello. “If we draw clear lines, we win.”
Steve Cory, the chairman of the Republican task force, said that based on recent census data, he expects more districts to shift from north and east Idaho to southwest Idaho. He expects Canyon County and Ada County to have 13 legislative districts, which would make up more than a third of the Legislature.
The growing state population would also affect Idaho’s two congressional districts. Cory said that approximately 50,000 people would need to be shifted from the 1st District on the western edge of the state, to the 2nd District. Frasure, who has been involved in Idaho’s reapportionment since 1980, said that change could come from Ada County, which is currently split between the two districts.
The GOP task force is putting together a shortlist of potential appointees to the reapportionment commission. Cory said Republican chairman Norm Semanko could choose a name from that list. Denney and Geddes said they already have appointees in mind, but would look at the shortlist. The task force is also identifying what its redistricting priorities will be once final census numbers are released toward the end of this year.