The Districting and Apportionment Commission tasked with setting the state legislative districts for the next 10 years switched positions on two Hi-Line towns today, although it does not appear to change the situation for a Hi-Line senator who will be out of a job in two years due to the redistricting process.
Presiding officer Jim Regnier said the next step for the commission will be to take public comment in a meeting Dec. 19.
The next Legislature will also make recommendations to the commission, with the final decision on any changes made by Regnier.
The commission Thursday approved a compromise motion by presiding officer Jim Regnier to move Malta north into House District 33 north of U. S. Highway 2, and Harlem south into House District 32, which stretches from Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation in Chouteau County east across the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation into Valley County where it borders the Fort Peck Indian Reservation.
The district is half of the senate district in that area, where redistricting has prevented newly re-elected Sen. Greg Jergeson of Chinook, a Democrat, from keeping his seat in two years if he remains in Chinook.
Jergeson was elected to serve the last half of the term vacated when Sen. Rowlie Hutton, R-Havre, resigned in the middle of the last legislative session, his first. He would have to run for re-election in 2014, but because the new district includes the residence of Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, who was just won his four-year seat, Jergeson cannot run in two years. The next election in the district will be in 2016.
In order to run again in 2014, Jergeson would have to move from Chinook into a district with a seat up for election, such as the new district that includes Havre.
The commission voted unanimously for Regnier’s motion, which included adjustments in Cascade County, although both Republican commissioners Linda Vaughey and Jon Bennion said they were submitting a “reluctant” vote in favor.
Bennion said before the vote that he appreciates the effort to reduce deviations in size between districts, which appears to be at a record low for this redistricting, 0.89 percent. The record had been 2.62 percent with the commission in the 1990s.
“I appreciate the responsiveness to the community of Malta, ” Bennion said, adding that he wants to set a high bar for future commissions as far as keeping deviations in districts low.
He said he still is unhappy with the work the commission did with districts in Great Falls. Bennion said the requests made by the Republican side generally were ignored.
“I am frustrated, ” he said. “I still don’t believe that our ideas are being incorporated anywhere, and I (think) that there are substantial political reasons for it. ”
Vaughey said she was disappointed that three changes that were unrelated were put together in one global motion.
“I support the portion of the motion that changes Harlem and Malta’s districting. I am still unhappy with Cascade, ” she said, adding that she agreed with Bennion that reductions in deviation are moving in the right direction and setting a high bar for future commissions.