On Tuesday the Idaho Redistricting Commission assembled. I watched nearly the entirety of the festivities from home via Idaho Public TV streaming video and in the afternoon in-person at the Capitol. On Tuesday evening I also attended the public hearing, which was quite fascinating especially when juxtaposed with the public hearing in Caldwell the next evening.
The hearing in Boise was lightly attended. There were a few lobbyists in attendance and few other unrecognizable observers. Beyond that there was a handful of Democratic operative-types, including House Minority Caucus Chair, Brian Cronin. On the Republican side, there were a few as well, including former GOP Ada County Commissioner, Fred Tilman. However, beyond a couple of Ada County Democrats testifying and Boise Mayor Dave Bieter, there really weren't any "partisans" there to speak. In fact, not a single partisan Republican spoke up.
Compare that with the event in Caldwell the following night where the GOP were out in force. They made many demands upon the Commission, including keeping districts in-place for current legislators, which by the way is totally against the law. While some people, including Caldwell Mayor Garrett Nancolas (through a letter), requested that city districts be created, there was a sense that the GOP as a party did not support such a plan. More on the city versus county debate later.
Another interesting voice came from that of Boise Chamber VP Ray Stark. He advocated for Ada County have nine full districts within confines of the county. Not a bad idea if you live in Ada County (which I do). However, he did have a map, which I couldn't see, so maybe his "plan" isn't as good as the overall idea. That said, he also addressed the issue of Congressional reapportionment. He said that the Chamber supports simply moving the line in Ada County further west in order to pick up more population. This is where Ray and I disagree. The fact is that there is absolutely no reason to divide Ada County. While it has been done in the past, doing so again would, as I've stated before, simply be political maneuvering with the intent of minimizing the impact of Ada County (and the City of Boise) in any one Congressional District. I wouldn't be the slightest bit surprised that if Ada County is divided once again that it results in a lawsuit.
As for drawing maps, it was reported by Dan Popkey that GOP Commission Chairman Evan Frasure had done some doodling of his own and shared it on the Maptitude server. What he likely didn't know was that doing so attached your name to the shared plan, not just the name of the plan itself. As disclosure, I saw his map and saved a copy of it just in case, which turned out to important as you'll read in a sec. Popkey went on to report that Commish Frasure's snafu was unintentional (or so he says) and asked for it to be removed. Unfortunately for Commish Frasure, the cow was out of the barn. The map has been re-uploaded by another user and has been titled in such a way to let other users know who the original author was.
Taking a bit closer look at Commish Frasure's map, which had been derided by a couple of testifiers at the public hearing on Tuesday in Boise, you can understand why. There were literally over a dozen examples where Commish Frasure chose to cross county boundaries to connect legislative districts rather than try to complete the entire district within one county. Most egregious (from a Boise perspective) was the decision to take the Boise Highlands, Warms Springs Mesa, and Harris Ranch precincts into Boise COUNTY.
This gets me back to the debate of cities versus counties. While Ada County Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane pointed out on Tuesday in the public hearing the city boundaries move, the fact is that cities represent the ultimate, "community of interest." Maintaining communities of interest is supposed to be one of the highest priorities of the redistricting process, behind not dividing counties needlessly and most importantly having equal population. Taking part of the City of Boise and moving it into Boise County makes no sense, especially when it isn't necessary. Urban and suburban areas are unique and have very different cultures than the rural communities. That is why places like Caldwell, which according to the last Census was right around the 45,000 mark for population and also happens to be the target population for a legislative district, should be a district in and of itself.
There will be more to come, but the fireworks have started.