Saturday, May 28, 2011
Tensions arise with first proposals for new district lines
Teton County proposal will ripple across southwest Wyo legislative districts
By Dan Neal
A proposal laying out new boundaries for Wyoming House District 22 would include all Teton County residents living west of the Snake River but no one living in Pinedale.
Teton County’s commissioners got together with a consultant using geographic information system maps and drew up the new district as part of a proposal offered to the Legislature’s Joint Interim Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee when the committee met Wednesday in Rock Springs and Pinedale. Those meetings were the first of 10 the committee plans to hold around the state to hear local concerns and proposals about redistricting the Wyoming Legislature.
The process of reconfiguring the boundaries of legislative districts is known as “redistricting.” It is constitutionally mandated. The Legislature must redraw legislative district lines in the first budget session following completion of the decennial U.S. Census. Under the principle of “one person, one vote,” those districts must be nearly equal in population to ensure that each voter wields roughly equal power in legislative elections.
Since population grew in some areas of the state and declined in others since the 2000 Census, legislative district boundaries must change to reflect those shifts. Determining exactly how is a political process traditionally used by the party in control of the legislature to solidify the ability of its members to get elected.
In Wyoming, the Republican Party’s huge majorities in both the state House and Senate mean shifting district lines will affect its own members. There are some places, like Cheyenne, where the party can redraw the lines to include voters more likely to vote Republican in specific Senate or House districts. But in most areas, moving district lines will affect seats held by Republicans.
Those new lines proposed for House District 22 are the first example. They would ripple through the rest of southwestern Wyoming, requiring significant changes in districts in Lincoln, Sweetwater, and Uinta counties.
The Teton County proposal knocks out a sitting legislator, HD20 Rep. Kathy Davison of Kemmerer, whose community would be absorbed into House District 19. Davison’s GOP colleague Rep. Owen Petersen of Mountain View holds the HD19 seat.
Tension over the Jackson-based proposal could be heard in side-conversations in the Pinedale meeting, which was in the Sublette County Library. The HD 22 seat is held by one of the nine Democrats in the 60-seat House, Jim Roscoe of Wilson.
The Teton County officials made the argument that both Sublette and Teton counties witnessed significant growth over the past decade and those changes require dividing the district.
Some Teton County residents believe House District 22, established in the 2001 redistricting process, was created to split the Wilson vote to dilute the power of voters seen as more liberal, particularly on conservation issues. As a result, House District 22 presently includes part of the Wilson area, goes south to cover Alpine and Etna, then extends east and south into Sublette County, taking in Bondurant, Cora Pinedale and Big Piney. Most of the residents in the southern end of the present district, an area booming with natural gas development, are believed to view conservation matters differently than the majority of residents of Teton Valley, the home of two national parks and an economy that thrives on nature-based tourism.
Teton County Commissioner Hank Phibbs said the proposal worked out in Teton County roughly “squared off” the south boundary of HD22 at Star Valley Ranches, extending it east to Daniel and Cora in Sublette County.
Sublette County’s population grew 73% over the decade to 10,247. Under the 2010 Census, the ideal population for a House district is 9,394. To meet “one person one vote” tolerances, Sen. Charles Scott, a Natrona County-based senator on the committee, said no House district can have more than 9,863 residents, or fewer than 8,925.
That means Sublette County cannot be wholly contained within a single district. Two Sublette County officials, County Clerk Mary Lankford, and Commissioner O.G. Wilson, said they want to keep Sublette County “as whole as we can.”
And Bondurant resident Mary Winney, whose husband Bill Winney ran for the HD22 seat in 2010 and lost to Roscoe, said she did not want to be included in a district oriented to Jackson. “I don’t belong in Jackson,” she said. “Bondurant needs to stay with Pinedale.”
Phibbs argued for the proposed new lines by noting that many residents of Alpine, Etna, and Star Valley ranches commute to work in Jackson. That connection means the residents of the HD 22 proposed by the Teton County group share a community of interest. And that means the proposal meets one of the redistricting principles guiding the joint committee’s redistricting work. (You can see the Principles of Interest on the Legislative Service Office website.)
Rep. Keith Gingery, HD23, R-Jackson, offered a fig leaf to those concerned about the Teton County proposal’s ripple effects in districts further south in Lincoln, Uinta, and Sweetwater counties. Gingery (seen at top during the 2011 session) noted it was necessary to “add numbers to HD22” after taking the west bank of the Snake River, so the lines were extended south to pick up Etna and Star Valley ranchers.
“We took House District 16 (represented by GOP Rep. Ruth Ann Petrov) … and shrank it to the town corporate limits of Jackson. We pulled 22 up (from Pinedale),” Gingery said.
“The rest of it south, I hope other people will come up with a better way,” he said, noting he does not like the boundary changes proposed for HD 20. But “the numbers drive it,” he said, noting some Sublette County have to be included in a district that crosses county lines.
Joint Corporations Committee member Rep. Alan Jaggi, HD18, R-Lyman, said people across the state want to see legislative district boundaries follow county lines as much as possible. But that is impossible to do and still meet the district population requirements of the “one person, one vote” principle.
“Rather than say, ‘Keep us whole,’ come up with a plan,” Jaggi said. “Everyone in the state says, ‘leave us alone.’”
For another report on this meeting, see the Jackson Hole Daily.