Growth means redistricting in Idaho

Published: Sunday, Feb. 20 2011 9:25 p.m. MST

BOISE, Idaho — Explosive population growth since 2000 in the sprawling farmland-turned-suburbia west of Idaho's capital city means Republican House Majority Leader Mike Moyle now represents more than 80,000 people — twice as many as he should, according to rules used to draw the political boundaries a decade ago.

By contrast, in north central Idaho's District 8, lawmakers there speak for just 36,000 people after Clearwater, Idaho and Lewis counties lost residents.

With the latest U.S. Census figures arriving in March, Idaho's two biggest political parties are gearing up for the bruising process of rebalancing Idaho's legislative districts so one person actually will mean one vote, regardless of whether they live in Grangeville or Star.

Redistricting, as it's called, isn't pretty, and is often plagued by lawsuits and accusations of manipulation.

"I could end up with another county," said Moyle, the House's No. 2 leader, of the potential consequences of redistricting for the 2012 election.

Idaho has 35 legislative districts, stretching from Canada to the Wyoming and Utah borders. Each district has two representatives and a senator.

Over the last decade, the state has grown to nearly 1.6 million people from 1.3 million, with the most dramatic increases in the suburbs of Boise, Nampa and Coeur d'Alene, as well as Idaho Falls and Rexburg. Each new district will jump to around 45,500 people, from 37,000 in 2002.

As a result, generally conservative suburban areas like Moyle's district, Meridian and Canyon County, stand to gain representatives, while the power of Idaho's agricultural hinterlands at the Capitol will continue to ebb.

"We'll need to have 4,000 or 5,000 additional people in my district," conceded House Assistant Minority Leader Scott Bedke, a rancher whose district covers four rural counties north of the Utah line. "In my part of the state, you have to go a long way to gather up 5,000 people."

By June 1, House and Senate Republican and Democratic leaders, as well as the parties' respective chairmen, will choose three Democrats and three Republicans for volunteer posts on the redistricting commission.

Over the following 90 days, the commission people will hold public hearings across Idaho, before formulating a redistricting plan.

Here are the basic rules: The largest and smallest districts' populations can't vary by more than 10 percent; where possible, commissioners shouldn't split up counties; and they should combine "communities of interest," to avoid pairing groups with little in common — rural Elmore County and Sun Valley, for example.

In the last redistricting, multiple lawsuits ended up in the Idaho Supreme Court, delaying the final plan until March 2002 — just before that year's election filing deadline.

Idaho's strange shape, vast distances and population centers separated by miles of sagebrush or mountains don't help.

"The reapportionment process is the purest form of political blood sport," said Tom Stuart, a Democratic commissioner from Boise in 2001.

Get The Deseret News Everywhere

Subscribe

Mobile

RSS