National Democratic Group Defends Oregon’s Congressional Map

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Oregon's new congressional districts are receiving national attention as a Democratic group pushes back against Republican claims that the state's political boundaries are gerrymandered.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports that in a filing on Monday, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee urged a judicial panel to approve the map — which was passed during last month's contentious special legislative session — insisting that the boundaries meet all legal standards.

“This map represents compromise not only because of how it was enacted — with Republicans and Democrats negotiating throughout the process — but also because it is a competitive map that is reflective of the state,” Kelly Burton, president of the NDRC, said in a statement.

With the filing, the NDRC is seeking to insert itself into a fight that began last week, when former Secretary of State Bev Clarno and three other Republicans sued to challenge the map, which includes a new sixth congressional seat — increasing Oregon's national political clout.

“The result of this highly partisan process is a clear, egregious partisan gerrymander, as has been widely acknowledged both in Oregon and across the country,” the Republican lawsuit said. “Democrats are projected to win five of the six of Oregon’s congressional seats in a typical year, results that are not even arguably justified by the Democrats’ overall political support in this State or the political geography of the State.”

The new congressional map includes four U.S. House seats that either are safe Democratic or lean in the party’s favor, one reliably red seat and one seat that could be a toss-up.

Stakes were high for both the GOP and and Democrats during this year’s redistricting — a once-a-decade process that determines how voters pick state representatives, state senators and members of Congress for the next five election cycles. From U.S. Census delays, COVID-19 cases in the Legislature during the special session and accusations — from both sides of the aisle — of gerrymandering, there were substantial challenges.

But the most c ontroversial moment of September’s redistricting session was when House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, rescinded a power-sharing deal with GOP lawmakers. The agreement, reached in April, had given House Republicans an equal say in redrawing political maps in exchange for them to stop blocking bills with delaying tactics.

The even split on the House redistricting committee essentially granted the minority party veto power over the state’s new political boundaries.

But after the first day of the session, Kotek voided the deal saying Republicans weren’t engaging constructively.

Republicans say they were cheated, as Democrats cleared the path to pass maps they wanted, and held a walkout — denying the House quorum to vote.

Republicans eventually returned to the session but objected as Democrats passed the map.

The NDRC filing doesn’t acknowledge that dynamic. Instead, it insists that Republicans returned to the session because House Republican Leader Christine Drazan negotiated a congressional map her GOP colleagues could at least stomach.

“The Compromise Map is the congressional redistricting plan that House Majority Leader (Christine) Drazan had acceded to in negotiations,” the filing says. Later, it concludes: “Ultimately, both the public and legislative records confirm what various news outlets reported: that the congressional map enacted by the Legislative Assembly and signed by Governor Brown was the result of a compromise among legislative leaders.”

A panel made of up five retired circuit court judges from around the state will decide whether the state’s congressional maps are illegal and, if so, how they should be altered.