Here we go again. Following the 1980 and 1990 Censuses, Idaho went to hell and back trying to achieve an equitable reapportionment of the state’s Legislature — enduring seemingly endless lawsuits and, at one point, judicially mandated “floterial” districts. Those were super-districts that included, for example, the entire Magic Valley, in addition to the regular, smaller legislative districts.
In 1994, now-Congressman Mike Simpson — he was a Blackfoot state representative back then, and speaker of the House — his Senate counterpart Jerry Twiggs and others pushed through the idea of a six-member reapportionment commission. It would consist of three Democrats and three Republicans, and voters went along by approving a constitutional amendment.
Such a commission redrew the legislative map following the 2000 Census, and although the six commissioners left behind clouds of ill will, they got the job done.
Had they failed, the courts would have decided.
Ten years on, the current reapportionment commission is locked in a neverending wilderness of 3-3 partisan votes, and reapportionment stands a serious chance of becoming a judicial prerogative once again.
If they respect their fellow citizens, the commissioners won’t let that happen.
Time is short. The commission has a deadline of Sept. 4 — the day before Labor Day.
There’s no reason not to have a deal in place by then. During the hearings that led up to the panel’s deliberations, there was broad agreement among the six commissioners on what were “communities of interest” — that’s the U.S. Supreme Court-mandated standard for reapportionment.
So keep it simple:
* Trying to dilute solidly Republican and Democratic districts is a surefire recipe for deadlock. Concede the other party its base.
* Use common sense. Eastern Idaho’s District 31 — which includes Bear Lake, Caribou, Franklin and Teton counties and part of Bonneville County — is a 200-mile-long travesty, parts of which can only be accessed by leaving Idaho and driving through Wyoming.
* Agricultural counties should be grouped in the same districts with other agricultural counties, wherever possible. Urban counties should be grouped in the same districts as other urban counties.
* Although it rarely does, fairness should trump politics. In our electoral system, somebody always wins and somebody always loses. We get that, and so do the voters.
Republican commission member Evan Frasure, a Pocatello Republican who has been through the reapportionment wars before, is probably the key to keeping this out of the courts. We hope he turns out to be as courageous as Dean Haagenson and Ray Givens were 10 years ago.
Both men were from Coeur d’Alene, Haagenson a Republican and Givens a Democrat.
The first time a plan won four votes it left the Haagenson in such ill repute with his party that one legislator called him “the most hated man in the state of Idaho.“
Givens, a Democrat, finally joined the Republicans in supporting their map after two more days of impasse, despite acknowledging it was “legally more suspect than the prior plan because of the division of counties.“
Something — and somebody — is going to have to give to keep reapportionment out of the courts. And perhaps dooming the reapportionment commission idea forever.
It’s way past time for statesmanship.