Two lawsuits challenge Oregon’s new legislative boundaries
One suit asks the Supreme Court to get rid of the Legislature’s plan entirely, while the other alleges Democrats punished one of their own.
Representatives work in the House chamber following a legislative special session on Monday, Sept. 20, 2021. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)
A former Republican state representative on Monday asked the Oregon Supreme Court to throw out all newly drawn state House and Senate districts and replace them with more competitive maps.
The lawsuit from former Rep. Patrick Sheehan, R-Portland, and Clackamas County attorney Samantha Hazel joined a challenge filed earlier Monday that asked the court to redraw two Eugene-area districts. In that case, two Lane County men argued that Democratic leaders deliberately and illegally shifted Democratic Rep. Marty Wilde into a Republican district to prevent him from challenging a sitting Democratic senator.
Monday was the deadline to challenge new state House and Senate district boundaries crafted by the Legislature last month. Because of the two lawsuits, the Oregon Supreme Court has until Nov. 22 to decide whether the Legislature’s redrawn district boundaries complied with state law or whether to order changes to Legislature’s plan.
Kevin Mannix, a Salem lawyer and former Oregon Republican Party chair who is representing Sheehan and Hazel, wrote that the Legislature broke state laws governing redistricting by using existing district boundaries to start drawing new map lines based on updated census data and by refusing to consider nonpartisan maps submitted by the public.
State law prohibits districts from being drawn to favor a political party or incumbent legislator.
The suit filed by Mannix asks the Supreme Court to instead adopt a map Republican political strategist Rebecca Tweed drew and submitted to the Legislature on Sept. 9. The map, which Tweed titled “Equitable Map Oregon, was drawn without any consideration of existing legislative districts, instead using city and county lines, highways, rivers and mountains to separate districts.
The Legislature’s maps appear intended to give Democrats a strong advantage in as many districts as possible by dividing rural communities that would have favored Republicans, Mannix wrote.
“It is no coincidence that the most puzzling borders exist in areas that at one time were represented in the legislature by Republicans,” Mannix wrote. “It appears that House Democrats were targeting advantages of 6 points where adjacent districts stacked Republican advantages of 20 or more percentage points, as they divided cities, and followed suburban neighborhood streets for borders.”
Eugene, for instance, would have four strongly Democratic House districts surrounded by two districts where Republicans hold an advantage. Democrats have good odds at picking up a second House seat in Bend, because new boundaries cut neighboring Redmond in half to combine with a more liberal portion of the larger city.
Keizer now shares a district with downtown Salem and is less likely to elect a Republican representative. Four of the six House districts in the Salem area now favor Democrats, with one evenly split district and one with a large Republican advantage, according to the complaint.
Earlier on Monday, Shawn Lindsay, a former Republican state representative from Hillsboro, sued in the Supreme Court on behalf of Lane County residents David Calderwood and Gordon Culbertson. They contend that the Legislature intentionally cut out state Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, from his district to endanger his re-election chances and prevent him from challenging an incumbent Democratic state senator. Wilde was first elected in 2018.
“That line was not based upon consideration of any permissible districting criteria, but was the result of an effort by Legislative Assembly leadership to protect one incumbent from a primary challenge, by surgically jutting a district line around a different, disfavored legislator’s home,” Lindsay wrote.
Culbertson wrote that he moved to unincorporated Walterville after growing up and raising his own family in Eugene, because the town’s political shift to the left no longer represented his values. The surrounding rural areas populated by farmers and forest workers don’t share interests with Eugene, he said.
In a declaration attached to the suit, Wilde said he objected to early redistricting plans that would have divided the area surrounding the University of Oregon into three different House and Senate districts. He organized constituents to send more than 100 written comments to the House Redistricting Committee and arranged for two dozen people to testify.
The university area stayed in a single district.
But after Wilde told state Rep. Andrea Salinas, the Lake Oswego Democrat who chaired the redistricting committee, that he led those efforts, every subsequent map included Wilde’s home precinct in a rural House district, according to the complaint.
Now, his neighbors share walking and biking trails, shopping centers, school districts and a neighborhood association with people in a different legislative district, but have little in common with the rural voters who will elect their representative.
Wilde had also told two senators, state Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield and state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene,that he intended to run for the state Senate in 2022. Beyer planned to retire, but Prozanski plans to run again in 2022. under existing district boundaries, he would have faced Wilde in a primary.
In his declaration, Wilde wrote that the Senate leaders decided to remove his voting precinct from his House district with “near-surgical precision.”
“The only logical inference from the facts… is that the Senate leadership wanted to protect Senator Prozanski from my primary challenge,” he wrote.
Wilde, who is on military leave with the Oregon National Guard and could not be interviewed, shared a written statement saying he trusted the Oregon Supreme Court to defend his constituents and the law.
“Legislators bear a special responsibility to follow the law,” Wilde said. “By passing a map that protects every single sitting senator from a primary challenge, while dividing communities of interest in my district in service of that goal, the Oregon Legislature failed to abide by the requirements of the law.”
In a separate process, a special panel of state circuit judges based in Marion County will hear arguments over congressional district lines on Wednesday and Thursday. A group of four former Republican elected officials sued over congressional maps which they contend disproportionately benefit Democrats.
This article was updated to reflect a second lawsuit and a statement from Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene
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