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Oregon’s new congressional map is now final

Former Secretary of State Bev Clarno was among Republicans challenging Oregon's new congressional districts. Clarno and other petitioners declined to appeal their case to the state supreme court.
Bradley W. Parks
Former Secretary of State Bev Clarno was among Republicans challenging Oregon's new congressional districts. Clarno and other petitioners declined to appeal their case to the state supreme court.

Republicans who'd argued the map was a blatant Democratic gerrymander elected not to appeal their case to the Oregon Supreme Court.

Oregon’s bruising fight over new political maps is now over. Winner: Democrats.

A group of former Republican elected officials challenging new congressional districts has elected to cut its losses after failing to convince a panel of state judges the new lines were drawn to favor the majority party. Rather than appealing their case to the Oregon Supreme Court, challengers led by former Secretary of State Bev Clarno have opted to let the matter rest.

That means that a new plan that could lead to Democrats holding five of the state’s six U.S. House seats will become operative Jan.1. A separate plan for rejiggering the state’s 90 state House and Senate seats to reflect population changes was granted final approval by the state supreme court earlier this month.

With the court outcomes, political mapspassed solely by Democrats will stand for the next decade, barring a call by Oregon voters to redraw the maps using a different process. Under the plans, the party is expected to maintain healthy majorities in the statehouse, and to retain control of at least four of Oregon’s congressional districts in the near term.

Shawn Lindsay, a former state lawmaker and attorney representing the Republican challengers did not respond to inquiries about an appeal on the congressional lines. But attorneys for the state and a national Democratic group defending the Oregon plan said Tuesday the deadline for appealing the maps had come and gone.

The congressional map that will now take effect represents the most controversial element of the once-a-decade redistricting process state lawmakers undertook this year. While minority Republicans found some elements they could support in the plan for redrawing state House and Senate districts, the GOP viewed the congressional plan as a blatant gerrymander in Democrats’ favor.

They argued that Democrats had improperly split Portland among four districts, giving them a Democratic lean that would be hard to counteract. And they railed against the decision to connect Portland and Bend into the state’s 5th congressional district, a move they said defied common sense and was designed solely to favor Democratic candidates.

The view that Oregon’s congressional plan is tilted has been backed by some national observers, who pointed to fairness metrics that seemed to favor Democrats and preclude competition. But Republicans were not able to convince the courts that those measures reflected reality, or that they were the result of purposeful partisanship by Democrats.

Judges instead were swayed by experts hired by the state and a Democratic group to defend the maps, who testified that they were more fair than Oregon’s congressional districts had been historically, and that some advantage for Democrats is baked into the political demographics of the state.

A five-judge panel that had first crack at ruling on Republicans’ claims appeared to find it unlikely that Democrats had purposefully tilted the game in their own favor, writing: “”We respect the legislative process in Oregon and decline to adopt the cynical view that all politics are dirty politics. That is simply not the Oregon experience or legacy.”

Under normal circumstances, the new political maps would last until 2031, following the next U.S. Census. But some reformers are hoping to shake things up sooner.

For the second time,a coalition of good-governance organizations and Republican-friendly industry groups are hoping to land a measure on the 2022 ballot that would alter how Oregon reshapes its political districts.

Rather than giving lawmakers that task, the group People Not Politicians wants to join a growing number of states that use a nonpartisan or bipartisan coalition to craft new maps. If they can qualify for the ballot, and voters agree, the group will attempt to have Oregon’s political maps redrawn right away rather than waiting until 2031.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting. To see more, visit Oregon Public Broadcasting.

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration among public radio stations in Oregon and Washington that includes JPR.