“Time has come for a southwestern Idaho congressional district.”

The 2021 Commission for Reapportionment at the Idaho State Capitol Lincoln Auditorium
L to R: Tom Dayley, Amber Pence, Dan Schmidt, Bart Davis, Eric Redman, Nels Mitchell

by Logan Finney, Idaho Reports

Ada County residents urged Idaho’s redistricting commission this week to stop dividing the county between the state’s two congressional districts.

The commission held a series of five public meetings over three days to hear preferences and input from Treasure Valley residents on what they would like to see in new electoral maps.

The commission has prepared two proposal congressional maps, which are available to view at redistricting.idaho.gov. The first map, labeled C01, shifts the existing line that divides Ada County slightly westward to balance population between the two districts.

Federal criteria require new congressional districts to have as equal populations as possible to adhere to the “one person, one vote” principle. Several whole-county configurations come within a margin of a few hundred people, but dividing Ada County could allow the commission to narrow that margin by as precisely as one or two people.

Idaho Code 72-1506(5) states that “Division of counties shall be avoided whenever possible” in congressional and legislative redistricting plans. Attendees of the Thursday night meeting at the Idaho State Capitol told the commission that there are several possible configurations of whole counties that create districts with similar enough populations.

College of Idaho faculty member McKay Cunningham assured the commission that U.S. Supreme Court precedent allows for congressional malapportionment under 0.1 percent as long as the population deviation is for a legitimate state interest like not splitting up counties.

The second map prepared by the commission, C02, draws an entirely new line that does not divide any counties. It groups Washington, Payette, Gem, Boise, Canyon, Ada, Elmore, Owyhee and Twin Falls counties to create a southwestern Idaho congressional district.

The other district on that map is geographically massive, spanning all the way from the Canadian border to Bear Lake, with the only roads connecting the two ends of the state crossing through the Treasure Valley or through Montana.

Branden Durst, a former state senator and current candidate for superintendent of public instruction, gave the first testimony at the Meridian meeting. He told the commission that the C02 map would give the rest of the state “a fighting chance” to elect a representative who does not live in the Treasure Valley.

The last two Representatives elected from the first congressional district, Russ Fulcher and Raúl Labrador, are from the Treasure Valley. The second congressional district’s Mike Simpson lives in Idaho Falls.

Some attendees at the Boise meeting argued that urban interests in the Treasure Valley and Twin Falls would be better served by their own congressional seat, as shown in map C02.

“Time has come for a southwest Idaho congressional district,” said Dan Popkey, a former Idaho Statesman political reporter and press secretary for Labrador.

Commissioner Bart Davis discussed the idea with Popkey, saying that someone from eastern Idaho and someone from Boundary County likely would not feel they were part of the same community of interest under that map.

Popkey said that argument is probably also true of constituents in Boundary County and Owyhee County, who share a representative in the first congressional district under the current map.

“It’s an — as you know — oddly shaped and large state without that many people,” Popkey said.

Ben Burnham seconded Popkey’s support for a southwestern congressional district, adding that while the other district would cover a geographically diverse area, the regions it would represent still share a rural character.

“I think a district around the Treasure Valley would make a lot of sense,” Burnham said. “I understand that there’s not a lot in common between Utah and Canada, but I live in the Boise Bench and I don’t have a lot in common with eastern Idaho.”

Sarah Harris also spoke against dividing Ada County, saying that she and her mother both live in Garden City but vote in different congressional districts.

She showed the commission two maps that she had made with whole counties, both of which had population deviations of less than 0.04 percent. Rather than creating a Treasure Valley district, she divided the state into northern and southern areas.

The commission repeatedly encouraged everyone to submit their own map ideas online, or to send them comments about maps on the website already submitted by members of the public.

“These [maps by the commission] are drafts. These are not necessarily things that we are excited about,” Davis said.

There was also plenty of discussion around legislative maps at the hearings; that topic will be covered in another article.

While the redistricting commission legally has until the last day of November to create and submit a redistricting plan, they hope to complete the process even sooner.

“You’ll be most effective with your ideas if you can get those submitted in the next three to four weeks, because eventually the concrete will start to dry in certain areas,” Davis said.

The commission continues their tour of the state next week in north Idaho.

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