Monday, December 12, 2011

Will all state senators have to stand for election following redistricting?

Rep. John Patton of Sheridan talks during the Joint Corporations
Committee meeting in Room 302 of the Capitol Dec. 6.

Redistricting Wyoming’s Legislature this month again revolved around defining communities of interest, ranging from fairly specific definitions to the open ended claim that “there’s a community of interest wherever you go in Wyoming.”

That generous idea was presented by state Sen. Curt Meier who found himself drawn out of his district by the committee’s proposed redistricting plan. He mounted a spirited argument for his ideas to amend the proposed boundaries to save his seat. Meier’s predicament forced a discussion of how the new boundaries affect sitting legislators, an issue the committee previously had avoided publicly.

It also served to focus attention on the effect of redistricting on sitting senators. Will the boundaries change enough to justify requiring senators who won four-year terms in 2010 to campaign again in 2012?

The Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Interim Committee met Dec. 5 and 6 to put together a basic plan. It produced one that gives Campbell County five seats in the House. It also adopted new boundaries for House District 22, completely separating it from Teton and Lincoln counties. And it reversed a decision made in October to split Rawlins.

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.

Population grew in some areas of the state and declined in others since the 2000 Census. Now legislative district boundaries must change to reflect those shifts. Campbell County saw the largest growth in population in the state in sheer numbers. Sublette County experienced the greatest percentage increase. Goshen and other northeastern counties and counties in the Big Horn Basin either suffered declines in population  or saw such low growth that they now hold a lower share of the state’s total number of residents.

Once the committee adopted its plan for 60 House districts, it realigned four Senate districts in eastern Wyoming to accommodate the new boundaries of the House districts. (The Wyoming Legislature “nests” two House districts inside each of the 30 Senate districts.)

The committee still must determine whether it will require all 30 senators to run for election when the new districting plan takes effect in 2012. One of the committee’s co-chairmen, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, vigorously argued to require only those senators whose terms are up in 2012 to run.

Redistricting aside, all senators serving even-numbered districts must stand for election in 2012. The question is whether the changes that have moved other communities into new Senate districts are significant enough to require all the senators to run. Most of those communities are small. Along with Sen. Meier’s LaGrange, among them are Atlantic City, Dubois, Big Piney and Marbleton, Farson, and Meeteetse.

The committee’s redistricting House and Senate plans are now up on the Legislature’s website. The joint committee will meet again Jan. 19 to consider the written version of the bill that will implement the boundaries agreed to in Cheyenne Dec. 6. Amendments to the plans can be offered at that time.

Final action will take place during the 2012 Legislature.