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Oregon could add a congressional district, but not without 'disruptive' fight

Oregon is on track to add a sixth congressional district, likely changing the boundaries of the massive U.S. House district that includes Jackson County and is now held by outgoing Rep. Greg Walden, a Republican from Hood River.

Oregon is one of eight states that might add a Congressional district based on preliminary U.S. Census data.

Salem is already abuzz with talk about the potential change.

“It’s going to be disruptive,” said Sen. Jeff Golden, D-Ashland. “It’s going to change all the districts.”

While Salem lawmakers will make the decision about how to carve up Oregon, Golden said he’d prefer that it would be decided by a nonpartisan group.

He noted that at one time, Jackson County was part of a congressional district that included Eugene. Since then, there’s been an effort to keep the conservative areas of Oregon in the 2nd Congressional District.

Golden cited a petition circulating by the League of Women for a 2020 ballot measure to create an independent multipartisan commission to draw voting map boundaries.

In Salem, much of the redistricting talk has focused on how to carve up the big population center around Multnomah County.

“The conventional wisdom is it would be in Portland,” said Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford. “When we were in session, everyone talked about it as a fait accompli.”

Oregon, with both the Legislature and governor’s seat dominated by Democrats, now has five congressional districts, with four on the west side of the Cascades

The House has 435 representatives, so the census that will be released in 2021 will be used to distribute the districts according to population numbers. As a result, some states will gain districts while others will lose them.

Salem lawmakers will be in charge of drawing the new boundaries to add in a new district and alter the size of other districts depending on population growth.

Wallan said she she’s not sure how the redistricting might affect Congressional District 2, which encompasses two-thirds of Oregon east of the Cascades and sweeps into Jackson County to the south.

She said she expects cities such as Hood River and Bend, which are currently part of the 2nd District, might be in play when the new boundaries are drawn. She said it’s a possibility that a new district could be carved out of this large district.

“The most difficult part of congressional District 2 is Hood River,” Wallan said. While the city votes Democratic, many of the outlying areas vote Republican, she said. She said Hood River has become something of a bedroom community for Portland.

To the south, Deschutes County, driven by growth in Bend, has been trending more Democratic in recent years, she said.

In the past, attempts at redistricting have drawn political fire in Oregon.

In 2011, one failed map pushed Willamette Valley districts into the 2nd congressional district. The map pushed the district all the way to the coast and included Josephine County.

The actual census count will take place this year but won’t be finalized until April 1, 2021.

Kimball Brace, president of the Washington-based political consulting firm Election Data Services Inc., said the preliminary census data looks good for Oregon.

“It looks like you’re going to gain a seat,” he said.

While Oregon comes out ahead, Brace said the census data don’t look good for Democrats in general in the U.S.

Texas could gain three seats and Florida two, but Bruce said those states haven’t appropriated dollars to help with the census count, which might affect their totals. California and New York could each lose one seat, based on preliminary data.

Brace said factors that could change these estimates include how good a particular state is at capturing the data and how much immigration politics play in suppressing the count.

Brace said population size affects the boundaries of a given district, but political parties are always looking for an edge.

“The key to keep in mind is there’s nothing logical about this,” he said. “For those that it helps, it’s a piece of art. For the people it hurts, it’s a gerrymander.”

Rep. Pam Marsh, D-Ashland, said there are a lot of redistricting questions ahead, and she hasn’t heard yet about any possible proposals on the table.

She said it could raise some questions for the candidates running for Walden’s seat, including Republican Jason Atkinson, who lives in Central Point. If the district were redrawn, it’s conceivable that a newly elected representative could live outside the boundaries of the newly drawn district.

“We have people lined up to run for that district from many areas of the state,” she said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

Oregon's current election map. The state could get a sixth seat in congress depending on census results. U.S. GIS map accessed via Wikimedia Commons.