By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
Does a Wilshire Drive resident have more in common with someone two blocks down the street, or a professor living two blocks from Newberg’s George Fox University?
Some of Keizer’s leaders would argue the former, which is why they don’t particularly like the agreed-upon plan for redrawing House District 25 and Senate District 13, represented by Rep. Kim Thatcher, R – Keizer, and Sen. Larry George, R – Sherwood. That is to say it wasn’t really redrawn at all.
In Keizer’s case, the boundary for both the house and senate districts group Keizer with areas to the north and west. The senate district, with Keizer as its southernmost point, reaches as far as Aloha. The city boundary divide is why the 200 block of Wilshire Drive (which is in Salem) are in House District 22 and Senate District 11 (represented by Rep. Betty Komp and Sen. Peter Courtney, both Democrats), while the 400 block of the same street are in Keizer, and part of House Dist. 25 and Senate Dist. 13.
And our Senate district’s southern border is along the Salem-Keizer border to the south, but stretches up as far as Washington County.
The city manager and mayor have said placing both Keizer and Newberg in the same house and senate districts create competition within the district for the same transportation dollars: The Salem-Keizer area is vying for a third bridge over the Willamette River, while Newberg leaders want to see the Newberg-Dundee bypass funded.
Answering commonality questions are just part of the joy of divvying up Oregonians every 10 years as part of the redistricting process. As populations grow and shift, U.S. Census results are used to decide what political boundaries will be for the coming decade. Congressional and state legislative districts are drawn up, fought over, redrawn and fought over again.
State law requires districts, “as nearly as practicable,” to be of equal population, contiguous and utilizing existing geographic or political boundaries. Other guidelines include not dividing communities of common interest and connection by transportation links. That’s a lot of criteria to satisfy, and the reality is redistricting is as partisan as anything the legislature does.
Typically in redistricting, both Democrats and Republicans will try to protect as many of their seats as they can while fighting for a few liberals here, a few conservatives there to tilt the balance of certain districts.
Republicans did have some pull with a 30-30 Democrat-Republican split in the Oregon House of Representatives, but with Democrats controlling the Senate and governor’s office the GOP still was at a disadvantage. Had no agreement on a map been reached, districts would have been redrawn by the Secretary of State’s office. Current Secretary of State Kate Brown is a Democrat.
Under both Democratic and Republican proposals, however, Keizer’s district didn’t look to be changing much.
“We’re irrelevant,” said Mayor Lore Christopher. “It’s all about the Portland area and the congressional districts.”
In a letter sent in April to the state’s Committee on Redistricting, City Manager Chris Eppley said Newberg and Keizer sharing a representative and senator “provides for an impossible situation for those who represent both of our areas.”
Eppley’s letter expresses support for creating a district that “would include the areas in and around Keizer, Salem, and unincorporated Marion County around the Salem-Keizer metropolitan area.”
Councilor Cathy Clark said there would be competition nonetheless – the Oregon Department of Transportation groups the two cities together anyhow – but said a common problem could create conflict.
“They have a congestion problem and we have a congestion problem” in that both Newberg and Salem-Keizer are on routes between the Willamette Valley and the coast, “and (fixing) both are big price-tag items. That’s where it really gets tough.”
Thatcher acknowledges competing interests can be challenging, but “you can’t avoid that sometimes,” she said. “It would have made more sense if Keizer was lumped with more of Marion County only at least.”
She was more surprised that Newberg and Dundee, towns with less than two miles of unincorporated territory between them, are again split in both the Democratic and Republican proposals.
“Those seem like very obvious areas of interest to me, And I thought they have lumped Keizer together with part of Salem, or at least the east part towards Silverton a little bit more,” Thatcher said.