Recently Hi-Line voters had the rare opportunity to voice their opinions on how Havre and north-central Montana legislative districts should look for the next 10 years when the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission held a public hearing here last week.
Since that time, a lot has been said around town and in the paper regarding which proposal has the most merit and best represents all of our interests and accusations are beginning to fly about movements to cut Havre’s representation and sever the rural voice.
Nothing could be further from the truth as far as I am concerned, and here’s why.
The Montana Constitution says that the Montana House of Representatives shall be divided into districts and “each district shall consist of compact and contiguous territory. All districts shall be as nearly equal in population as is practicable.” The 2010 Census determined that Montana’s population is 989,415. Since there are 100 districts, that makes the average district size 9,894 people.
Havre’s population in the census is 9,310, which makes the city of Havre an ideal size for a district by itself. Now what is more compact, contiguous and close to the ideal population than that?
Other discretionary criteria established by the Commission follows judicial case law which talks about respecting communities of interest. I argued at the hearing that a “community” is a social construct defined by an accepted boundary where groups of people share common values. By that standard Havre is a community and would make a good district, right? Not so fast. Interestingly enough, Joe Lamson, one of the two Democrat commissioners who drew up the “Communities” plan mentioned in recent press interviews that his plan keeps the most communities intact around the state and complies with the most criteria outlined by the commission. Well, that is certainly not the case in Havre nor is it really wanted here either apparently.
“Havre should be split between two districts,” was the title of Karen Datko’s recent letter to the editor. Even the title of her letter is a significant departure from the commission's own intent of keeping communities intact. She goes on to talk about how much we have in common with our rural neighbors. I don’t deny that at all, because we do have a lot in common, but are we to assume that people on the west side of 5th Avenue have more in common with folks who live in Chester than across the street? I don’t think so and if you ask most Havre folks, they don’t think so either. So what is really the reason for wanting Havre “split?” Politics.
The truth is that many of the same individuals who speak about the “Communities” plan being the best plan for Havre are just as partisan in their intentions as they claim I am being by suggesting Havre be united into one legislative district. I said at the hearing and it is true today, I and other Republicans subscribe to no specific plan because there are problems with all the plans. But to assume my reasons or those of other proponents of keeping Havre intact are more political than our critics is really quite comical.
I look forward to seeing the final result as the Commission sets out to draw its final proposals and Hill County Republicans stand ready to compete effectively no matter how the lines are drawn. In the meantime, feel free to send additional comments to the Districting and Apportionment Commission at email@example.com, via U.S. mail at PO Box 201706, Helena, MT 59620-1706 or via fax at (406) 444-3036.
(Andrew R. Brekke is chairman of the Hill County Republican Party and president of the Havre City Council.)