EDITORIAL: Redistricting? Why Idaho's reapportionment system works

The Times-News
February 22, 2010

Idaho voters got it right in 1994. That’s the year they approved a constitutional amendment to create a bipartisan citizens’ commission to handle legislative and congressional redistricting every 10 years and to remove — as much as is possible — politics from the process.

Now a politician wants to put politics back in.

State Rep. Tom Loerschter, R-Iona, introduced a bill Friday that would allow the Legislature to intervene in nasty reapportionment fights if the Idaho Supreme Court is unable to quickly resource disputes over redistricting plans.

No thanks.

There are aspects of Idaho politics and government that are dysfunctional, but redrawing district boundaries every decade on the basis of federal census results isn’t. The public trusts the process, elected officials honor it and the “g” word — for gerrymandering — hasn’t been heard in this state for 20 years.

Compare Idaho to Illinois and Louisiana, where politically charged redistricting consistently calls into question the integrity of government.

Loerschter is irritated that the 2001 reapportionment panel started in northern Idaho, meaning that by the time it got to the eastern part of the state the commission of necessity created some pretty funky-looking legislative maps.

His District 31 — which includes Teton, Caribou, Bear Lake and Franklin counties and part of Bonneville County — is odd enough that Loertscher and his colleagues Sen. Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, and Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, have to drive through Wyoming to get from one part of their constituency to another.

They won’t have to wait long for that to change. The reapportionment commission agreed last time that the next panel would start drawing the 2011 legislative map at the Idaho-Wyoming border.

It took a pretty impressive display of political courage on the part of the majority Republicans to put the redistricting commission in place 16 years ago. Unlike today, Democrats were within striking distance of regaining control of the state Senate at the time.

Idaho House Speaker Mike Simpson — now Idaho’s 2nd District congressman — and his Senate counterpart Jerry Twiggs were in a position to scuttle or seriously modify the proposal, but believed the integrity the process was more important.

Although the GOP has continued to dominate the state’s politics since then, the 2001 restricting put the Democrats back on the map after a disastrous election in 2000.

So on June 1, 2011, three Republicans and three Democrats will sit down and divide the state into 35 legislative districts and two congressional districts, based on the U.S. Constitution’s require of one-person, one-vote.

No member of that commission can be an elected or appointed official. Leaders of the Democrats and Republicans in the state House and Senate appoint one member for a total of four, and the state GOP and Democratic chairmen designate one each.

There is no gubernatorial veto power over whatever plan the commission comes up with.

And that’s exactly how it should be.

We hope the Legislature — and the governor, if this issue gets that far — will protect a redistricting system that’s fair and that works.