Prior to the Oregon Legislature’s success in 2011, 1981 was the last time the Legislature successfully passed a redistricting plan, but following a lawsuit the lines were later modified by the Secretary of State. Before 2011, the last time the Oregon Legislature passed a redistricting plan that became the final adopted plan was 1911.

1991 Redistricting – Phil Keisling, Secretary of State

In 1991, the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-majority Senate could not agree on a redistricting plan, so the task fell to Secretary of State Phil Keisling. Keisling, a Democrat, had been appointed secretary of state after only one term in the House. Presented with four varying plans from the Legislature, Keisling opted to start from scratch. He appointed an advisory committee of citizens that he deemed politically balanced to help him with the task. The committee members attended public hearings, reviewed multiple criteria, examined proposed maps and ultimately suggested their own alternative maps. Keisling established a clear policy of no meetings with legislators or others behind closed doors. He also made a point of not using party registration in drawing district lines, and he and his staff devel- oped written justifications for each decision they made. In the end, Keisling’s 1991 redistricting plan was accepted with general praise from Republicans, grudging acceptance from Democrats, and two minor revisions after Oregon Supreme Court review.

2001 Redistricting – Bill Bradbury, Secretary of State

In 2001, redistricting proved to be particularly rancorous. The Legislature faced a 20 percent increase in the state’s population over the previous decade. The growth was unevenly distributed, which meant redrawing many district lines. Republicans controlled both the House and the Senate and pushed through plans for congressional redistricting on party-line votes. Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber vowed not to sign any redistricting plan that did not have bipartisan support and vetoed both the Republican congressional and legislative redistricting plans. House Republicans tried to pass a resolution for legislative redistricting that would not require the governor’s signature, but House Democrats bolted from the capital and prevented a quorum for five days.

In the end, the Legislature ran out of time to complete redistricting. The task of legislative redistricting again fell to the secretary of state, Bill Bradbury, while congressional redistricting would be decided by the courts. Unlike Keisling, Bradbury was a 14-year Democratic lawmaker, and had been both Senate majority leader and Senate president before being appointed secretary of state in 1999. Bradbury unveiled his initial plan for legislative redistricting on July 17, 2001. It drew immediate criticism from Republicans because, among other complaints, it shifted majority party registration in six House seats from Republican to Democrat. “Bradbury,” according to political reporter Jeff Mapes, “was seen as much more political and more of a Democratic Party person than Phil Keisling.”

Bradbury’s final legislative redistricting plan, unveiled on August 15, also drew Republican criticism, in large measure because it put slices of heavily-Democratic Multnomah County in several suburban districts. Bradbury argued that county lines in the Portland metro area were less important than other “communities of interest” and transportation corridors. Republicans said that even though the final plan made some changes they had sought, it did not honor Multnomah County political boundaries and appeared to increase the number of legislative districts Democrats might win.

A variety of groups challenged Bradbury’s legislative plan in court, but the Oregon Supreme Court upheld it with one small change to correct a mistake of assigning the inmates of the federal correctional institution in Sheridan to the wrong House district. Justice R. William Riggs, writing the majority opinion, noted that even if the redistricting plan led to changes in political control for some districts, the challengers had failed to prove that such changes were intended by the secretary of state.

2011 Redistricting – Oregon Legislature

Unlike in past legislative sessions, the Oregon Legislature in 2011 produced both legislative and congressional redistricting plans that went unchallenged in the courts. Even so, a few Republicans voiced criticism of the legislative plan, stating that they went along only to avoid having the task given once again to a Democratic secretary of state, in this case Secretary Kate Brown.

The outcome was indicative of the bipartisan spirit that prevailed in the 2011 session – with a few exceptions. Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, made successful redistricting a priority by appointing three Republicans and three Democrats to the chamber’s redistricting committee, even though Democrats held power by a slight margin. Courtney, a legislator for 25 years, acknowledged the Legislature’s past failure to deal with redistricting, but argued it was lawmakers’ duty to get it done. “Just because it’s hard,” Courtney said, “isn’t any reason we shouldn’t do it.”

The House Redistricting Committee also had equal major party representation, reflecting the 30-30 split between Republicans and Democrats in that chamber. A Republican and a Democrat co-chaired the House committee. The House and Senate redistricting committees met in joint sessions for all meetings, streamlining the process. They held 12 hearings around the state to gather public input. Republicans and Democrats agreed each party would produce its own plans for public review.

The draft plans were released on May 11, 2011. The main difference was in the two congressional redistricting plans. Democrats continued the 2001 redistricting blueprint that divided heavily Democratic Multnomah County among the First, Third and Fifth congressional districts, while the Republican alternative concentrated the county in one district: the Third. The Democratic plan would also have left current party registration percentages essentially untouched in Oregon’s five congressional districts, whereas the Republican plan would have decreased the Democratic edge in the First and Fifth districts, represented by Democrats in Congress.

The Democratic congressional plan drew fire because it extended the boundaries of the Third Congressional District all the way from Hood River to Rainier. The Republican draft was criticized because it moved more than 500,000 residents into new districts.

State legislative redistricting plans were less contentious. Republicans avoided creating districts that left coastal residents represented by House and Senate members living in the Willamette Valley. Both parties created districts in which incumbents in the opposite party would have to run against one another. Republican House Redistricting Co-Chair Shawn Lindsay argued that the Democrats’ plan decreased the number of “competitive” legislative districts.

The committees held three hearings in Salem on the redistricting plans and heard testimony that fell into several general areas: some legislators complained that proposed boundaries violated the concept of communities of interest; several local officials pointed out that their communities were split between districts; partisans criticized the way the Portland area was treated in the drawing of lines; and other witnesses said they wanted a stronger political voice for Asian-Americans in certain districts.

After the hearings, House and Senate redistricting committee leaders met in private to work out differences. On June 7 the chairs announced they had reached a deal on a legislative plan. In an interview with our committee, Democratic House Co-Chair Chris Garrett of Lake Oswego cited two reasons why legislators reached agreement. First, though the original Democratic and Republican plans differed, they had enough in common to make negotiators believe a compromise plan was indeed possible. Second, Rep. Garrett said, negotiators from the outset pledged to be open and honest with one another. Rep. Lindsay confirmed that the negotiators built a level of trust that allowed them to be frank with one another.

Rep. Kevin Cameron, the Republican vice-chair of the House redistricting committee, remained critical. Cameron said an important factor for Republicans in the negotiations was that legislative redistricting would have fallen to the Democratic secretary of state without an agreement in the Legislature.

The compromise legislative redistricting plan passed the Senate 27-3 and the House 47-10. Approving a congressional redistricting plan proved more difficult,and several commentators suggested the Legislature might not succeed by the July 1 deadline. The chief stumbling block was Multnomah County. Democrats wanted to continue dividing the heavily Democratic area among three congressional districts; Republicans wanted to contain it within one.

In something of a surprise, the parties announced a compromise on June 29, 2011. Republicans backed off their insistence that Multnomah County be in one district, but the final plan allowed for Districts 1 and 5 to become more Republican. One stated incentive for both sides to reach agreement was the cost of a court fight, which would have been borne by the state during an extremely tight fiscal period.

The successful adoption of a legislative redistricting plan in 2011 was a product of the closely divided Legislature, the cooperative personalities of individual legislative leaders charged with developing the plan, and the motivation of both parties to control the outcome rather than turn it over to the secretary of state.