HELENA — The redistricting commission that reached a deal late last week on a tentative map for the state's 100 House districts is far from finished redrawing the state's legislative districts.
Chairman Jim Regnier lauded the panel Thursday for meeting its goal of keeping population differences between districts very small, with not much more than a 1 percent deviation between larger and smaller districts.
"The lower the deviation, the lower flexibility you have to have districts that are out of whack, so to speak," said the impartial chairman charged with negotiating a compromise between partisan sides. "I think that was a major accomplishment of the commission."
The map shows plenty of changes sought by Republicans: Havre now has only one House district, Butte lost a House seat, and the so-called Missoula "wagon wheel" of districts is dramatically altered. Also, Jefferson County received its own district separate from Butte.
Democrats, too, got some of what they wanted, such as retaining two Anaconda districts and largely getting free reign in crafting the Helena and Great Falls districts.
The commission will have to, at the minimum, make small changes to the tentative plan to account for isolated pockets that were not properly accounted for in last-minute compromises. But that also opens up the possibility for more wheeling and dealing.
A Republican redistricting commission appointee said he hopes more changes will be made to the panel's tentative map.
Jon Bennion said Republicans feel far better about the new map than the one drafted 10 years ago. But they don't believe it's fair that the Democratic blueprint for Helena and Great Falls was adopted with little compromise.
Republicans also don't like that Malta was included in a minority Indian district that gives voters in that town little chance of electing their own representative.
Bennion said proposed amendments could come as the commission cleans up its tentative proposal sometime in the next couple of months. The panel is then scheduled to meet in November for the difficult task of pairing House districts to create 50 Senate districts.
The plan will then be submitted for more public comment, and given to the Legislature for reaction next year before the panel finalizes a map that will be used by election officials in 2014.
Democratic-appointee Pat Smith said changes will be difficult after all the compromise it took to get a tentative deal. He promised his side will offer its own proposals if larger changes are in the offing.
Smith said losing a seat each in Butte and Havre stings Democrats. The new map "bears no resemblance" to the one it will replace, he said.
"I don't think there is any question that major compromises were made here on both sides," Smith said. "But there is nothing final about it until we get through the process."
Regnier said he will listen.
"We can't re-open the entire 100 districts, but I will certainly be open to suggestions from any of the commissioners on fine-tuning our final product," Regnier said.