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Editorial: Oregon Democrats’ anti-democratic power play – OregonLive

Members of the Oregon House at the Capitol on Jan 11. Brooke Herbert, staff
It takes no time at all to recognize that the congressional map Oregon Democrats are trying to cram through the Legislature is shamelessly gerrymandered. In drawing boundaries for Oregon’s congressional districts, including a new sixth district, Democrats divvied up the Portland-area’s bounty of liberal voters among four of them. Such creative slicing and dicing – the plan assigns roughly two-thirds of Portland’s Irvington neighborhood to a district stretching east across the Cascades to rural Jefferson County, while the other third is in a district stretching west to the Pacific Ocean – would set up Democrats to win five of Oregon’s six seats in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But drawing up a biased map was just the half of it. Facing opposition from Republicans on the committee considering both congressional and legislative boundaries, House Speaker Tina Kotek decided last week to rig the result. She shut down the existing committee, which had an equal number of Republicans as Democrats as part of a deal she agreed to earlier this year, and created two new ones in its place:­ one to handle legislative boundaries and the other to oversee congressional lines. To ensure Democrats’ gerrymandered map moved forward, Kotek assigned two Democrats and only one Republican to the congressional committee. And despite widespread public testimony from Oregonians opposing the congressional boundaries, House Democrats did not make a single change to the map.
Credit Kotek and House Democrats for transparently showing Oregonians just how grossly partisan and anti-democratic their intentions are.
As this editorial goes to press on Friday, it is unclear whether Republicans will even show up for a charade of a House vote on Saturday or whether Democrats will budge on their no-change stance. Regardless of the result, Oregonians of all parties who value fairness and representation should focus on three key takeaways.
First, Kotek’s handling of redistricting should be a significant factor in any Oregonian’s analysis of whether to support the longtime legislator in her bid to be governor. Her decision to go back on her word to Republican legislators is a huge mark against someone who wants to lead the state, which includes millions of non-Democrats. It’s also profoundly disappointing considering that her earlier agreement to share power with Republicans on redistricting showed leadership and political courage – two attributes that have been sorely lacking among Oregon’s elected officials.
While Kotek did not respond to requests to explain the decision, her spokesman sent a lengthy email that sought to pin the blame on Republicans and pointed to a political scientist’s quote in a news story arguing that the burden was on the minority – not the people who hold power – to come up with a compromise. That’s an odd philosophy to have in general and, in this case, Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers of the Legislature and control the governor’s office. Those with such power should recognize fair play and honest treatment – even to those who belong to a minority party – as a fundamental obligation of leadership.
Second, Oregon should join the growing number of states adopting an independent redistricting commission. Politicians who have a vested interest in elections should not be in charge of district boundaries that are so easily drawn to favor one party over another or help cement an incumbent in power. And while Oregon Democrats own the ugliness of this year’s redistricting process, we have no doubt that Republicans would engage in the same opportunistic manipulation if they were in the majority here – as they have in states where they do control the legislature.
Unfortunately, an initiative petition to create such a commission failed to make the ballot last year due to difficulties gathering signatures during the pandemic and a challenge by Democratic Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum to keep it from voters. Oregonians should ensure it makes the ballot in 2022 and push for a mid-decade report evaluating the fairness of whatever boundaries are ultimately adopted by the current redistricting process.
And finally, Oregon’s non-affiliated and third-party voters need to step up their advocacy for their own rights. Non-affiliated voters make up a third of Oregon’s registered voter base, but are locked out of participating in the taxpayer-funded Democratic and Republican primaries. As a result, the most partisan candidates often win the party nomination to run in the general election, acing out more moderate candidates who might have broader appeal. Non-affiliated voters should pressure party officials to open their primaries or, if that fails, consider the easy step of changing their voter registration temporarily to one of the parties in order to vote in the May primary. More Oregonians must be able to have a say in selecting candidates for the general election.
Certainly, Oregon has leaned Democratic, as presidential and statewide elections have shown, but not nearly by the margins that would be reflected in a 5-1 congressional split. Oregonians should make clear to their leaders that while they may favor liberal candidates as a whole, they value fairness and representation even more.
-The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board
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