The redistricting cycle passed another major milestone with news out of Oregon, one of five states gaining seats with reapportionment. After various hearings and debates, the Oregon Legislative Assembly on Friday morning released proposed congressional and state legislative plans. This makes these the first official proposed maps since redistricting data came out in mid-August. In this installment of Between the Lines, we’ll be looking at the maps, as well as their possible implications.
Democrats One, Bipartisanship One
With this release, there are two sets of maps, one by the State House, the other by the State Senate. Eventually the two chambers will need to come to a compromise, but the processes that went into drawing these plans is important. Democrats control both chambers, leading some to believe that Oregon was a top target for a Democratic gerrymander. In the State Senate, where Democrats hold an 18-11 advantage, this is exactly what they seem to be planning.
In the State House, Democrats hold an even bigger 37-22 advantage, but the rules are different. There the minority constitutionally has the power to significantly delay pieces of legislation, so in order to avoid this, Speaker Tina Kotek made a deal with Republicans. This deal gave Republicans an equal say in the process in exchange for these rules to be temporarily suspended. This has led many to believe that the State House maps would be bipartisan in nature.
Did the proposed maps live up to our expectations? By all indications, yes.
The Congressional Maps
Proposed by the State Senate, Plan A strives to maximize Democrats’ advantage in Oregon’s congressional delegation. It would protect all five of Oregon’s representatives (including Republican Cliff Bentz), and give Democrats an additional safe seat. Here’s a brief district-by-district analysis.
First district (Suzanne Bonamici, D): Perhaps the most similar district to the current map, the first district is based in the Portland metro. Like the current district, it takes in western Portland. But this isn’t an innocent split along the Willamette River. This is a blatant bisection of Portland in an attempt to shore up Bonamici. It would be the most Democratic district in the state, and I would expect it to be very safe for her.
Second district (Cliff Bentz, R): Oregon’s sole Republican representative currently represents all of the state’s land east of the Cascades. However that would change if this map were implemented. The district would lose Hood River and Bend, two blue cities, to the third district. Bentz would go from safe to ultra-safe as a result, and the second district would become a vote sink.
Third district (Earl Blumenauer, D): As mentioned above, the third district faces major changes. It’s currently the most Democratic district in the state, but due to losing much of Portland, it loses this title. But the most major change is crossing over the mountains and taking in some very dissimilar parts of the state. Hood River and Bend being in Blumenauer’s district will be a novelty for a 26-year veteran of a highly urban district, and would make for a tough bicycle ride over the mountains, but given the partisan lean he would be very safe.
Fourth district (Peter DeFazio, D): Despite some difficulty in making the fourth district safer for DeFazio, the drawers of this map somehow managed to make it 10 points more Democratic. This is a result of losing blood-red parts of Douglas and Josephine Counties. Furthermore it keeps the college towns of Eugene and Corvallis in the district as well as consolidating coastal communities. DeFazio, who in 2020 faced his first competitive race in decades, would likely welcome this change.
Fifth district (Kurt Schrader, D): Another Democrat who represents a competitive district, Blue Dog Democrat Kurt Schrader would see his district shored up. It loses its coastal areas and becomes more suburban, even slightly cutting into south Portland. Now a safe seat for Democrats, Schrader’s only concern would be in a primary, if he has a challenger who is willing to risk their marriage.
Sixth district (Open): As a result of population growth, Oregon will be gaining a district. And this new district will be picking up parts of the current first and fifth district under this map. In many ways similar to the fifth, this district runs along the western Willamette Valley and is very suburban. Possible candidates for this seat include state Democratic legislators Kate Lieber, Paul Evans and Teresa Alonso Leon.
When Republican state representative Shelly Boshart Davis introduced this map on Friday morning, she emphasized many priorities, mainly preserving communities of interest. This map complies respectably on that front, as well as on the front of competitiveness. Half of the districts are highly competitive, meaning this map could produce anything from a 5-1 Democratic advantage to a 4-2 Republican advantage. Overall, Plan B is objectively more balanced and fair than Plan A, and complies with requirements. As I did with the last map, here’s a rundown of each district.
First district: One aspect of the current map that Boshart Davis objected to was putting western Portland with coastal communities. This plan remedies that, cutting out Clatsop, Columbia and Yamhill Counties from the first district. This makes the first an exclusively suburban district, remaining safe for Bonamici.
Second district: Unlike Plan A, Plan B preserves eastern Oregon in one district. Apart from losing Grants Pass and part of Medford, the district undergoes little change. Despite keeping the blue cities of Ashland, Bend and Hood River, Bentz would remain safe, absent a big wave for Democrats.
Third district: In the spirit of preserving communities of interest, Plan B took the vital decision not to include Bend in the third district. It instead stays within Multnomah County, all the way up to the river. No amount of gerrymandering could ever make the third district competitive, so Blumenauer is safe in any case.
Fourth district: Due to gaining an extra district, the fourth becomes a challenge for Democrats. The second and fourth had to lose population, so the fourth had to gain Grants Pass and lose Corvallis. While it’s not much redder than the current district, it’s so close that any drop is bad news for DeFazio. I would expect this to be a tossup race in 2022, especially if Republicans nominate Alek Skarlatos again.
Fifth district: If there’s any district in this map which catches my eye, it’s this one. It undergoes a huge overhaul, going from a largely suburban district to a largely rural district, as well as a sizeable change in partisan lean. If it were in place I’d be fairly confident in Republicans winning this district in 2022. A defining feature of this district is its placement on the coastline, of which it contains a large part. This is the district where Shelly Boshart Davis lives, so she may want to run.
Sixth district: Despite the numbering, this is the district overlaps largely with the current fifth. It’s also the district which Kurt Schrader lives in. However unlike in Plan A, this district, while still Democratic leaning, is highly competitive. Schrader faced a closer than expected race in 2022, and a possible Republican wave may not treat him so well.
There’s still a few weeks to go until the passage of the final maps. And the two proposed plans are wildly different, so it will take a lot of effort to iron out the differences between them. Overall given the partisan dynamic, it’s difficult to say which map the final plan will resemble more. My intuition says that it will be somewhere in between the two. Democrats will want to maximize their winnings, but may not be able to get around Oregon’s redistricting laws with a map like Plan B. The law requires that geographical boundaries and communities of interest be respected, both of which Plan A objectively doesn’t seem to comply with, especially in the case of the third district.
And of course, they may not be able to navigate the bipartisan deal in the State House. In the end Democrats may be forced to accept a fair map, but anything could happen between now and then.
The State Legislative Maps
The state legislative plans presented are a little more difficult to analyze, due to less public scrutiny and more districts. But I managed to get a good look at each of the maps, and it seems clear what the intent of each one is. The redistricting committee released three plans, A, B and C. Plan A was proposed by the State Senate, while Plans B and C were proposed by Republicans and Democrats, respectively, in the State House. Each plan has a Senate and House map, and in each one districts are “nested” (each Senate district consists of two House districts) in compliance with state law.
I won’t be doing a full district-by-district breakdown, but I will be doing brief overviews of each plan.
In substance, Plan A is very similar to Plan A for Congress in intent. It’s clearly meant as a Democratic gerrymander, although some of the details are subtle. In the 2016 Presidential election Hillary Clinton won 19/30 Senate districts and 40/60 House districts. And taking a close look at the maps, you can see where Democrats drew districts to their advantage. They split the Eugene metro into five House districts in an effort to spread out the city’s deep blue hue. They split Salem into four House districts, making an effort to join nearby blue cities as well. Bend is bisected, although that could backfire, given Democrats’ historical underperformance downballot there. And in staunchly left-wing Portland, they made several micro-decisions that benefitted Democrats.
These maps share many similarities with the current maps. Like them they were drawn by and for Democrats, but are updated to reflect trends over the last decade. The plan would likely solidify Democrats’ advantage for the next decade.
Moving onto proposals by the State House, we now come onto Plan B. Plan B is a set of maps by House Republicans, with an alleged emphasis on fairness. And as a whole it is objectively the fairest of the three maps. It respects geography, and mostly keeps city boundaries intact. But take a closer look and you can see clearly why Republicans would want this plan to pass. In the Senate the districts split 18-12 for Clinton, and the median district is 4-5 points to the right of the state. Not too sharp of a change from the current map, but not ideal for Democrats. But in the House there’s a closer 32-28 split, and the median district is a sizeable 6-7 points to the right of the state. This would not only benefit Republicans, but give them a very real possibility of flipping the chamber.
Democrats losing control of the legislature would be a shock to observers in an era where Oregon has become a safe Democratic state. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that Plan B is a Republican gerrymander. Republicans could say that geography is bad for Democrats, and it would be true. Democrats are very clustered in deep blue cities, mainly Portland, which makes it difficult not to pack them. But either way the Democratic controlled legislature likely won’t be happy about risking their chances of control. So it seems the plan has a slim chance of passing.
Plan C is the second of the three plans that were drawn by Democrats. Proposed by State Representatives Wlnsvey Campos, Andrea Salinas and Khanh Pham, the maps are fairly similar to Plan A. Both are Democratic gerrymanders, but they have different intentions. Like A, C has the two-way Bend split, the five-way Eugene split and the four-way Salem split. However Plan C, which was submitted by three minority lawmakers, is drawn to increase minority representation. Minority communities, mainly Hispanic and Asian, primarily exist in Marion, Multnomah and Washington Counties, and these maps preserve them well. Senate districts 11, 17 and 24, as well as the corresponding House districts, would be the main targets for minority representation.
Because of gerrymandering, neither chamber would be competitive under this plan. In 2016 the splits would have been 21-9 and 38-22 for Clinton. And if Democrats can bypass Republicans, they would likely find support in both chambers for this plan.
What comes next
This is the first (except maybe Colorado) of many states to pass the milestone of proposing new redistricting plans, and it may be the first to pass them. The next date to look out for is September 27, which is the deadline for the legislature to pass plans.
With Oregon and with all 49 other states, Elections Daily will, as always, be here to cover as much as we can. Hope you’ve enjoyed this installment of Between the Lines. Until next time.