Residents of Blaine County and the surrounding region voiced their opinions Wednesday night on how a bipartisan committee should shape Idaho’s two federal congressional districts and 35 state legislative districts.
The six-member Idaho Commission for Reapportionment took testimony at a public hearing on the process at the Community Campus in Hailey.
Several Blaine County residents expressed support for a draft map of legislative districts put forth by the commission that would move Blaine County into a new district with its two neighbors to the south, Lincoln County and Jerome County.
Longtime Blaine County resident Cindy Jesinger and former Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael both supported the commission’s tentative proposal, displayed in a map of Idaho referred to as “L1.” Jesinger gave a long list of reasons why the plan makes sense, noting that the three counties are linked in several ways.
Hailey residents Brian Sturges and Darlene Dyer, both retired teachers, also favored L1, with Sturges saying he was “enthusiastically supporting” the proposal.
The commission started its work Sept. 1 to consider redrawing the lines for Idaho’s two U.S. congressional districts and 35 districts represented in the state Legislature. Redistricting is conducted at least once every 10 years, after a U.S. census measures changes in populations. It is required by constitutional law to ensure that elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives and Idaho Legislature represent—in their respective bodies—approximately the same number of people.
For the last decade, Blaine County has been in legislative District 26, which also includes Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties. The population of the district was approximately 46,000 in 2020, including Blaine County’s population of approximately 24,300.
The District 26 population is now about 6,500 people short of the state’s target size of 52,546, the number that would give equal representation to each district. That figure is about 12.3% short of the goal. In the redistricting process following the 2010 census, the population of all districts was within 5% of the established ideal size.
The commission’s draft map that puts Blaine County in District 35 with Lincoln and Jerome counties would keep Camas and Gooding counties in District 26 with most of Twin Falls County, minus the city of Twin Falls, which makes up its own district. The new composition of District 35 would be about 2% from the target population of 52,546.
Commission Co-Chair Dan Schmidt, a Democrat from Moscow, told the Hailey audience that the panel has to follow other criteria, too. They try not to split counties and try to avoid “funny shapes,” he said.
“We can’t do this however we want to,” he said.
Each district has two representatives and one senator in the Legislature. In the Republican-dominated Legislature, District 26 is currently represented by three Democrats—Reps. Muffy Davis and Sally Toone, as well as Sen. Michelle Stennett, the minority leader. If the commission approved the L1 proposal, Toone would remain a resident of District 26 and would no longer be in the same district as Blaine County.
Lee Barron, chairman of the Camas County Republican party, told the commission that he wants the state to change the structure of representation in the Statehouse to ensure small, agricultural counties don’t become powerless amid growth in urban areas. All counties should be guaranteed representation in the Legislature, he said.
Wendy Jaquet, a Blaine County resident who served 18 years in the Idaho House of Representatives, proposed an alternative to L1 that groups Blaine County with Camas and Gooding counties, as well as the northern part of Twin Falls city.
On the federal level, Idaho’s 1st Congressional District ranges from southwest Idaho all the way north to Boundary County and the Canada border. Idaho’s 2nd Congressional District includes the entire southeast and central part of the state, ranging into Ada County and parts of eastern Boise.
Republican Rep. Russ Fulcher represents the 1st District, while longtime Rep. Mike Simpson, also a Republican, represents the 2nd District.
Though Idaho has been one of the fastest-growing states in the nation, it did not gain enough population from 2010 to 2020 to gain any seats in Congress.
The commission has put forth two draft maps for congressional districts. The first resembles the current configuration, while the second carves out all of southwest Idaho—including all of population-heavy Ada County—into one district. In that scenario, all of eastern, central and northern Idaho—including Blaine County—would compose a second district.
The commission has been holding hearings throughout the state. Idahoans can still submit written testimony and their own proposed maps. To submit testimony online or submit a proposed map, go to https://legislature.idaho.gov/redistricting/2021/.
The Commission for Reapportionment includes three former politicians who are Republicans and three public servants who are Democrats. To be approved, a redistricting plan has to be approved by two-thirds of the commission—or four of the six commissioners.
The commission has 90 days from its start date to complete its work. The panel’s final goal is to have the new districts approved and in place before the filing period for candidates in 2022 primary elections opens on Feb. 28.
“We’re kind of under the gun,” Schmidt said Wednesday.
While the work of the commission is scheduled to be completed before the end of November, court challenges to the redistricting plan could delay final implementation.