After lawmakers redrew Oregon’s 90 legislative districts and created a new six-district congressional map, many voters will find themselves in a district whose political leanings have changed – or in new ones entirely — come 2022.
Take Teri Lenahan, mayor of the Washington County city of North Plains.
Currently, Lenahan’s home near the northern edge of North Plains lies in House District 30, which straddles U.S. 26 near Hillsboro and includes broad swaths of that Democratic-leaning city. Since at least 2009, the district has been represented by a Democrat, except for a single term, in 2011 and 2012, when Republican Shawn Lindsay held the seat.
Under the new maps approved by lawmakers late last month, however, Lenahan and her North Plains neighbors will be moved into District 31. That district, with its new boundaries, will have a new political orientation. It’ll shed its swath of heavily Democratic suburbs north of U.S. 26 in unincorporated Washington County and become more intensely rural – and Republican.
Similarly, North Plains voters will be switched from Senate District 15, which centers on Hillsboro and Forest Grove and has grown to be safely Democratic, to Senate District 16, represented by moderate Democratic Sen. Betsy Johnson, which will become a competitive swing district.
Thus, without relocating, Lenahan and the many other voters in North Plains not affiliated with either major party will move from being represented by Democrats to likely being represented by the Senate’s most moderate Democrat and a Republican in the Oregon House.
That’s but one of the many ways the political landscape will shift at a micro level across Oregon, even though at a macro level, Democrats are highly likely to maintain their supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature.
As a result, many individual voters will find their district or districts, and the amount of attention they get from politicians, are all but certain to change. The Oregonian/OregonLive launched a new tool that allows you to look up which districts your home has been drawn into and the partisan ramifications of the neighbors who will now cast votes to determine who will represent you.
Bend Mayor Sally Russell is among those who will experience a change of political wind as a result of Democrats’ biggest district-drawing power play.
Her home in a historic area near the Deschutes River and downtown Bend will remain in the same state House and Senate districts. Specifically, she votes in heavily Democratic state House District 54, currently represented by first-term Democratic Rep. Jason Kropf, and competitive state Senate District 27, currently represented by second-term Republican Sen. Tim Knopp.
But in a big change, she, along with most other residents of the city of Bend, will become part of a new and very different voting district for the U.S. House of Representatives.
For decades, Bend has been part of the expansive 2nd Congressional District spanning virtually all of eastern Oregon. In recent years, that has meant it was a bright blue spot in a deeply red and overwhelmingly rural district, giving its voters little ability to affect the policy positions of its long-time former Congressman Greg Walden, a Republican, nor current first-term Rep. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario.
Under the new maps, Russell and her neighbors will become part of a newly drawn 5th Congressional District, the oddest shaped of all the congressional districts Democrats drew this fall. They’ll vote in a district that spans much of Deschutes County, then crosses the Cascade Mountain Range to take in parts of Linn and Marion counties and most of Clackamas County, including Oregon City, Milwaukie and Lake Oswego.
That change was part of Democrats’ strategy, derided by Republicans as patently partisan and against the rules, to maximize the power of Democratic voter distribution patterns. They managed to create five Democrat-safe or -leaning congressional districts and just one safe Republican district, all but guaranteeing their party 83% of Oregon’s seats in the U.S. House, while Joe Biden won 56% of the votes in the 2020 race for president.
That highly partisan line-drawing also fueled renewed drive among good government types to try to get a measure on the fall 2022 ballot that would ask voters to create an independent redistricting commission empowered to redraw the lines in 2023 ahead of the 2024 election cycle.
The newly drawn districts for state House and Senate seats more closely track Oregonians’ voting patterns.
Those boundaries, drawn by Democratic lawmakers with input from Republicans, were drawn and redrawn to protect most incumbents in both parties.
But a half dozen or more incumbents will need to move or quit the Legislature – or find themselves pitted in what could be a losing race against a fellow incumbent.
Sen. Brian Clem, a Salem Democrat, has announced he will avoid running against Rep. Raquel Moore-Green, a Republican he admires who has been redistricted into a single district with him, by stepping down from politics for now to care for his aging mother.
Similarly, Sen. Michael Dembrow, a Portland Democrat, announced during his 2020 race that it would be his last – meaning he won’t have to face off against his friend and colleague Sen. Lew Frederick, another Portland Democrat, whose district lawmakers expanded to include Dembrow’s home.
Less certain is what will happen to lawmakers who are slated to wake up in 2022 sharing districts with each other: fellow doctors and freshmen Democratic Reps. Lisa Reynolds and Maxine Dexter in deep blue Northwest Portand-centered District 33; Democratic Rep. Marty Wilde and Republican Rep. Cedric Hayden, who will inhabit a new overwhelmingly rural and Republican-leaning District 12 east of Eugene; and Democratic Rep. Anna Williams and Republican Rep. Daniel Bonham, whose current homes both lie in a new Democratic-leaning District 52 stretching from Corbett east to The Dalles.
– Betsy Hammond; email@example.com; @OregonianPol