The head of the Montana Republican Party made a call to party members in Havre Sunday to let their voices be heard in the legislative redistricting being planned to go into effect in 2013.
“What the state (Republican) party is trying to do is trying to get information out to all (Republican) central committees as just how important this is, ” Will Deschamps of Missoula, the Montana Republican Party chair, said during the annual Hill and Blaine county Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner. “Some counties may not think it affects them, but, believe me, it affects all of them. ”
The Montana Constitution requires a commission be appointed in the legislative session just before the U. S. Census is conducted to set the legislative districts in the state using the census data.
The commission includes four members who may not be public officials and are appointed by the majority and minority leaders of both the state House and Senate and the chair of the commission selected by those four members or the state Supreme Court if the members cannot agree on a choice.
The commission now working on redistricting, appointed in 2009, are presiding officer Jim Regnier of Lakeside, appointed by the Supreme Court; Linda Vaughey of Helena, appointed by then-Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo; Joe Lamson of Helena, appointed by then-House Majority Leader Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar; Pat Smith of Missoula, appointed by Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula; and Jon Bennion of Whitetail, appointed by then-House Minority Leader Scott Sales, R-Bozeman.
Using Census data, the commission divides the state into legislative and congressional districts with approximately the same population.
As Montana now has only one member of the U. S. House of Representatives, the task now becomes drawing 100 House districts and 50 Senate districts, with the Senate districts comprising two House districts next to each other which elect one senator.
Deschamps said the problem with drawing district lines can be seen in his home Missoula County. The voting in the county tends to follow a 60-40 split, with about 60 percent of the voters Democrat and 40 percent Republican. Despite that, only one of the 11 legislators with districts in the county is a Republican.
“But, if there’s 40 percent Republicans there and we only get one out of 11, what's wrong? ” Deschamps asked. “Well, I can tell you what's wrong. It’s the redistricting. Those districts, particularly in Missoula, and they're done the same way in a lot of other areas, are patterned so the Republicans cannot get elected. That went on and has gone on for 10 years. ”
He said, for example, each of the 11 districts include part of the University of Montana campus, which makes it much more difficult for Republicans to get elected.
And just a minor change can make a major difference, in any county and any voting district, Deschamps added.
“Because, if you can get five or six more votes into a district, that’s five or six more votes that might vote for Denny Rehberg or vote for Steve Daines or vote for any other statewide candidate, ” he said.
Deschamps urged people at the Havre meeting to give their input, either using forms provided at the Lincoln-Reagan Day dinner or online. That could include urging the commission to use existing lines, such as county lines, keeping cities intact, or using existing precinct or county commission district lines, he said.
The districting and apportionment pages on the state legislative website includes information about districting and apportionment, the members of the commission, draft maps of proposed districting, a place to make comments and a spot to read comments submitted.
Online: Legislative redistricting committee: Montana Legislature: http://leg.mt.gov, committees, interim, 2011-12 Districting and Apportionment Commission (http://leg.mt.gov/css/Committees/interim/2011-2012/districting/default. asp)