So fraught with partisan rancor and political peril is the redistricting process that the Oregon Legislature hasn't managed to do it in 30 years. Since 1981, every time it tried to draw new district lines it wound up so hopelessly tangled in partisan knots that it had to turn the job over to the secretary of state.
But this year - almost miraculously, given the legislature's almost 50-50 party-line split - the lawmakers were able to pull it off. Last week a redistricting bill cleared both the House and Senate by wide margins, and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed it into law Monday.
As redistricting plans always do, this one has ticked off some incumbent legislators and their supporters. One of the loudest grumblers is Republican Rep. Jason Conger, who had a little piece shaved off the top of his District 54 and another little chunk taken off the bottom. The change, Conger says, slightly increases the Democratic registration edge in the "hole-in-the-donut" Bend district.
As a matter of fact it does, but that's the way the redistricting ball bounces. Given the requirements that districts be equal in population, reasonably compact - i.e., no weird tentacles stretching out over the countryside to take in pockets of Republican or Democratic voters - and represent a "community of interest," some incumbents inevitably are going to be hurt a little and others are going to be helped.
And what the Legislature ended up doing with Conger's district is infinitely better than splitting Bend in half, an idea originally backed by some Republicans. Republican Sen. Chris Telfer of Bend, who was part of the four-person bipartisan team that crafted the redistricting plan, took a more statesmanlike view: "You had to go back to ... the definition of a community of interest and keeping the city of Bend whole," she said.
The best evidence that the overall redistricting plan is basically fair is that the anguished squeals are coming from both Republicans and Democrats. Conger's fellow freshman Republican, Rep. Patrick Sheehan, is complaining that his Clackamas district was gerrymandered. But Democratic Reps. Greg Matthews and Deborah Boone and Sen. Betsy Johnson also are unhappy with how their districts were sliced up.
Ironically, it could be that the even partisan split in the Legislature was what made agreement on redistricting possible. Democrats didn't have enough votes to muscle through a blatantly partisan plan. And a deadlock would have turned the job over to Democratic Secretary of State Kate Brown, which gave the Republicans a powerful incentive to compromise.
Whatever the political calculus involved, all the legislators - and especially Telfer and the three other members of the bipartisan draft committee - have earned a GLASS SLIPPER for working together to get a tough job done. As Telfer told a reporter last week: "This agreement represents the Legislature at its best, finding common ground even in the face of big obstacles."