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Oregon Republicans accuse Democrats of gerrymandering as power-sharing agreement falls apart

Democratic House Speaker Tina Kotek revoked a long-standing agreement on redistricting, ejecting a number of Republicans from their erstwhile committee.

Posted: Sep 21, 2021 12:46 PM
Updated: Sep 21, 2021 5:37 PM

SALEM, Ore. — A power-sharing agreement between Oregon Democratic and Republican state lawmakers for the process of redrawing legislative and Congressional districts has gone down in flames, with the conservative party accusing their opponents of gerrymandering.

When the redistricting process began earlier this year, the Democratic majority in the House agreed to compose their redistricting committee of equal parts Democrats and Republicans in exchange for a promise that the latter party would stop blocking legislation.


Oregon's Congressional map at present, as drawn after the 2010 Census. The Census in 2020 gave Oregon a sixth Congressional district, ensuring that this new redistricting session would be more complex and politically high-stakes.

That agreement appeared to hold through the release of the first map proposals in early September. The first rumblings of major dissent came on September 17, when Oregon Senate Republicans accused Democrats of releasing a revised map "designed to keep Democrats in power for the next decade." The latest map appeared broadly similar to the 'Plan A' map released by the redistricting committees prior to public hearings. 

As lawmakers met on Monday for a special legislative session to consider the redistricting proposals, House Speaker Tina Kotek rescinded the earlier power-sharing agreement on the House redistricting committee. Kotek said that "after many months of work, House Republicans did not engage constructively despite many attempts to address their concerns," the Associated Press reported.

"She lied and broke her promise not just to us but to Oregonians," said House Republican Leader Christine Drazan in a statement. "She just sold the soul of our state for Democrats' political gain. She's determined to gerrymander Oregon's congressional maps. Republicans have been at the table extending a hand so we can work together on fair maps. We wanted to be responsive to public testimony. This map doesn't do that."

Democrats in the state Senate succeeded Monday in passing their redistricting plan, over objections from Republicans. 

“I believe the plan that was passed violated the law by not following the criteria,” said Republican Senator Tim Knopp, vice-chair of the Senate Redistricting Committee. “They must do logical and legal gymnastics to justify pairing the rural and urban communities that they lumped together. No matter how Democrats try to spin it, the only reason to spread downtown Portland into three districts is to silence the voices of rural communities.”

“As written, this plan will rig the next 10 years of election to favor Democrats,” said Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod. “Fifty percent of Oregon’s congressional representatives will serve the City of Portland, but only 15% of Oregon’s population live in Portland. The urban-rural divide will continue to grow wider under this plan."

Senate Democrats disagreed, maintaining that the plan passed on Monday ticks all the boxes — contiguous districts with roughly equal populations, informed by transportation routes, utilizing existing geographical and administrative boundaries, and designed to avoid breaking up communities of common interest "wherever possible."

“The committee did phenomenal work and heard from many across our great state during 22 public hearings and many submissions of public testimony,” said Senate Majority Leader Rob Wagner in a statement. “These are balanced maps that meet all integrity tests. I appreciate my colleagues' work, and I was glad to vote ‘yes’ today.”

Monday's developments put Republicans between a rock and a hard place. They do not have the votes in the House to oppose passage of Democrats' redistricting plan — and walking out of the Capitol to deny a quorum, the favored tactic of the minority party in recent years to gain some semblance of leverage, would inevitably put redistricting decisions into the hands of Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.

If lawmakers miss a September 27 deadline to cement the new districts, Oregon law places the duty on Fagan, a Democrat, to finish the job. While Fagan has promised to form a People's Commission to advise her on the process, horrified Republicans this week referred to the former state senator as an "extreme left-wing partisan," suggesting that they do not consider her a feasible alternative.

House Speaker Tina Kotek came to the podium briefly Tuesday morning to say both she and House Republican Leader Christine Drazan were eager to take up congressional and legislative redistricting plans. When Kotek returned to the podium again in the afternoon she informed lawmakers that the session would be adjourned until Wednesday, as someone in the Capitol the day before had tested positive for COVID-19.

Rep. Drazan released a brief statement shortly afterward, acknowledging the delay and committing to continued dialogue on redistricting:

“At this time we are following recommended guidance to postpone today’s legislative session in the interest of member and staff health. In the meantime, we will continue ongoing conversations with Democratic leadership on the redistricting process.

"It’s in the best interest of Oregonians that we salvage an opportunity to pass fair maps. They deserve fair representation despite the unexpected actions taken by the Speaker yesterday. We need fair maps for Oregon and that’s still possible.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Article updated Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. with the news that the session would be adjourned until Wednesday.

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

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Cases: 356061

Reported Deaths: 4275
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah55695704
Washington38673322
Marion36719454
Clackamas29660309
Lane27624302
Jackson22982310
Deschutes20211125
Umatilla14451150
Linn12780130
Douglas12065243
Josephine9349196
Yamhill8674113
Klamath7965118
Polk733681
Malheur561776
Benton546531
Coos501294
Columbia379744
Jefferson372352
Union318449
Lincoln318039
Crook287546
Wasco287441
Clatsop243329
Baker202529
Tillamook196432
Hood River192137
Morrow184423
Curry180025
Harney113726
Grant100013
Lake92412
Wallowa68612
Gilliam1544
Sherman1503
Wheeler1121
Unassigned00

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Cases: 4842472

Reported Deaths: 71202
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles148181426506
Riverside3712935030
San Diego3660564183
San Bernardino3582135663
Orange3241845550
Sacramento1593332308
Kern1459621644
Fresno1458772084
Santa Clara1453911896
Alameda1205301400
San Joaquin1025821721
Ventura1009841166
Contra Costa998841008
Stanislaus860701331
Tulare80203967
San Francisco54375646
San Mateo54112622
Monterey50885587
Solano46021341
Santa Barbara45160523
Merced42299581
Sonoma40925402
Placer39342425
Imperial35999766
Kings32801322
San Luis Obispo29945332
Madera23876285
Shasta23851352
Butte23738270
Santa Cruz21018220
Yolo20353248
Marin17692244
El Dorado17169149
Sutter13913175
Napa12882100
Yuba1008582
Tehama9510110
Humboldt9243108
Nevada914290
Mendocino763687
Lassen754347
San Benito744472
Tuolumne688089
Lake6605104
Amador544064
Siskiyou450546
Glenn436733
Calaveras389381
Del Norte358342
Colusa307218
Inyo211140
Mono16703
Plumas16417
Mariposa133416
Trinity87711
Modoc6865
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