Lawmakers' desks

A list of pending bills in the Oregon House during the 2021 regular session.

In a sudden if not completely unexpected collision of partisan priorities, Democrats plan to vote Tuesday on new political maps despite Republican howls that they were double-crossed on a sealed deal.

"We've been had," says Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, a lead negotiator for GOP on redistricting for the 2022 election. "I don't know if that makes me a sucker, but if it does, I'm a sucker with character."

Bonham was reacting to the decision by House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, to unilaterally revise her earlier deal with House GOP leaders for parity on the House Committee on Redistricting.

“No map is perfect, and this is a very complex task," Kotek said. "Ultimately, we are bound to do our constitutional duty and the job Oregonians elected us to do.

House Republicans had negotiated a 3-to-3 partisan parity on the redistricting committees in the spring as part of a deal to end the use of parliamentary tactics to slow voting on legislation introduced by the Democratic majority.

But with the gaveling in of a new session, the committee in operation until Monday morning was no longer valid. For the special session called by Gov. Kate Brown, all legislation and committees had to be reconstituted.

The Senate as one of its first orders of business on Monday created its redistricting panel with an identical composition of the three Democrats and two Republicans who had served earlier this year. 

The panel voted 3-2 for a "do pass" recommendation on two Democratic plans for new districts required by the 2020 U.S. Census. The move sent separate bills for legislative and congressional redistricting to the full Senate.

After a floor debate, both passed on largely party-line 18-11 votes. The were then shipped over to the House for consideration.

In an early sign of possible upcoming controversy, the House during its morning session did not include the creation of a new redistricting committee.

When the two Senate bills arrived prior to an afternoon session, there was still no committee.

House Republicans said they expected - or at least hoped - that Kotek would stick with the earlier bargain and name the same panel with a 3-3 partisan split. 

Since August, the committee had taken part in 12 legally required public hearings and took in thousands of comments from the public on plans by Democrats, Republicans and the public.

Kotek decided that the congressional districts - the most contentious issue - would be handled by a new committee with a Democratic majority.

The move all but assured that if the committee met and forwarded the maps to the full House, Democrats could approve the plan.

"Separate committees are the only path the House now has to fulfill its responsibilities," Kotek said in a statement. "I am confident the maps passed by the Senate meet all statutory and constitutional requirements.”

The House adjourned until 10 a.m. Tuesday. The question is who will be there at the appointed time.

Now, Republicans must decide if they will go for the "nuclear option" - a boycott or walkout that would bring the entire session to a grinding halt and possibly consign all the legislature's work to date to the trash bin.

Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, said derailing the entire process was not her preferred result, but also not ruled out.

"All tools are on the table," said 

The Oregon Constitution requires 40 of 60 House members answer the roll call for a quorum for any business to be conducted.

Democrats currently have a 37-22 majority. Oregon is among a handful of states in which a quorum is larger than a majority of members.

If all Republicans boycott the session tomorrow, the House would be unable to advance any business and the Special Session would come to at least a temporary halt.

If no maps from the Legislature are delivered to the Oregon Supreme Court by Sept. 27, the court has ruled it will take lawmakers out of the process, as outlined in the constitution.

Maps for 60 House and 30 Senate districts would be drawn by Secretary of State Shemia Fagan.

A five-judge panel created by Oregon Supreme Court Chief Justice Martha Walter would decide on the six-seat congressional map.

During a traditional period of "remonstrances" each House meeting, both parties made statements accusing the other of partisan gamesmanship.

Democrats called out Republicans for using a constitutional parliamentary rule to leverage a role beyond their minority status in both chambers.

Republicans said the maneuvers were legal and had been used by Democrats in the past. They accused Kotek, who has announced she will run for governor in 2022, of deal-breaking to assure an overtly partisan result.

What happens next will be determine by who shows up for the roll call at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.


For more background, read Sunday's story by Gary A. Warner of the Oregon Capitol Bureau:


Pass or punt? GOP reacts to Democrats' redistricting maps

By Gary A. Warner, Oregon Capital Bureau

That was the question late Sunday as lawmakers pored over maps this weekend that may show Oregon's political future for the next decade.

Or be scrap paper in a week.

The clock is ticking down until a scheduled 8 a.m. Monday special session of the Legislature called by Gov. Kate Brown. The House and Senate are to assemble in the capitol to approve a redistricting plan that reflects changes from the 2020 U.S. Census.

As of a half hour before midnight on Sunday, the official website of the Legislature remained mostly empty of any details of possible action scheduled the next day. Both the House and Senate were listed as convening at 8 a.m. in the Capitol in Salem. But the posted "Joint Legislative Schedule" was sixteen pages of white space on the website. posted Joint Legislative Schedule.

The only addition - unannounced - was the arrival of "revised" House and Senate maps that the Legislature's public redistricting information website showed as having been entered into the system on 9/9/21 - Sunday. What changes were made between those released last week and the revisions was unclear. 

After months of discussions, 12 recent hearings, thousands of letters and alternative plans submitted by the public, time is almost up for the Legislature to have its say on redistricting.

Democrats want to pass maps they publicly released Thursday in an after-hours email.

Republicans can opt to punt the mapmaking to the secretary of state and a special judicial panel. Otherwise their leverage as the minority party is limited.

Grounds for a consensus are currently non-existent, though the sides continue to talk.

"Not very much has changed in the past few days," said Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, co-chair of the House Redistricting Committee.

Republicans say Democratic-drawn maps strategically partition their party's strongholds in Portland. The pieces are then added to nearby suburban or rural areas, warping districts to cement their hegemony.

Democrats counter that the maps reflect a reality of an Oregon in which the governor, secretary of state, treasurer, labor commissioner, both U.S. Senators and four of five members of Congress are Democrats.

The past decade has shown growth concentrated in the Bend area and around Portland, which have tilted increasingly toward Democrats.

The rural areas east of the Cascades and the Republican-leaning communities in the southwest have grown at a significantly slower pace.

Democrats say districts need to reflect that change.

Sen. Kathleen Taylor, D-Milwaukie, and Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, two of the top Democrats on the redistricting committees said the proposed maps were fair.

The new lines met state requirements, including districts that "reflect the diversity of communities of interest in our state," 

"Our commitment is to Oregonians and our job is to produce fair and representative maps that reflect Oregon’s population growth, align with statutory and constitutional criteria, and ensure public participation," they wrote.

The maps still did not have a starting point to make their way through the Legislature as of Friday night.

The Legislature's official website did not include a special session until mid-day Friday. It shows the House and the Senate scheduled to meet on Monday at 8 a.m. But no measures, committees and other details were to be found.

Oregon is the only state on the Pacific where the Legislature draws political lines. Independent commissions do the job in California and Washington, Hawaii has a bipartisan panel, and Alaska has a single congressional district.

Oregon follows the more traditional plan of state lawmakers drawing and approving maps, which are subject to a veto of the governor.

A late as January 2020, it looked like a slam-dunk process for a state with Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate, and Brown, a Democrat in the governor's chair.

COVID-19, a delayed U.S. Census, a political deal in the House, and a crossfire of claims of partisanship have made the process a mess.

The Oregon Supreme Court ruled the legislature could try to approve a plan, but gave it a Sept. 27 deadline.

At stake is the makeup of 30 House and 60 senate districts that must be shrunk, stretched or shifted to meet state and federal laws requiring approximately equal-sized districts.

The work is complicated this time by a sixth congressional seat awarded Oregon because of its population growth.

When Democrats released their maps on Thursday, the congressional layout was a flashpoint. The current five districts are represented by four Democrats and one Republican.

The new Democratic plan would leave the one Republican, U.S. Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, with the bulk of Republican strongholds in the east and southwest.

Using what in political slang is called "cracking," Democrats redrew the map to slice off portions of the Portland area to add four congressional districts. Each of the new districts was won by President Joe Biden by margins that ranged from 14.3% to 43.2%. The other district, centered around Eugene, went for Biden by 13.6%.

Barring a breakthrough no one expects, Republicans are left with two options:

Attend the special session, try to keep the plans in committee, and if that fails, put up an extended public fight with speeches and motions. But the most likely outcome is all three plans are passed and approved by Brown.

The alternative is to boycott the session, resulting in not enough lawmakers present to form a quorum to meet at all. Oregon is one of the few states that does not have a simple majority as the threshold for a quorum.

The second option would derail the legislative efforts no later than Sept. 27.

After that, the legislative maps would be drawn by Secretary of State Shemia Fagan and the congressional maps by a special panel of judges appointed by Chief Justice Walters.

While Fagan has promised a fair map and wants to have a People's Commission help with the choices, Republicans expect a partisan result from Fagan, a former Democratic state senator from Portland.

Republicans would hope the judges' panel would come up with maps that would result in a 4-2 Democratic-leaning delegation.

While an announcement could be made over the weekend, Boshart Davis said it would likely come down to Monday.

While saying she hoped the legislature would draw the maps, that will depend on Republicans arriving at the Capitol. Will they?

"That's a good question," she said.

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