State Sen. -elect Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, will be out of a job in two years under a legislative reapportionment plan approved by the District and Apportionment Commission on Friday.
The commission voted to pair the 100 state House districts approved earlier this year to create 50 state Senate districts.
In doing so, commissioners created a massive Senate district that extends from Wild Horse in Hill County on the west, skirts around Havre and runs down U. S. Highway 2 to the North Dakota state line.
Two state senators presently live in the district: Jergeson, who was elected in the November election to fill the term that was created when Rowlie Hutton resigned, and Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, who was just elected to his second four-year term.
Jergeson’s term expires in two years, and he won’t be able to run for a new term from the newly created district because Brenden will be in the middle of his four-year term.
Both senators were furious at the new district, saying it would be very difficult to represent a district that is more than 300 miles wide. At some points, the district would be less than 30 miles deep.
Jergeson blamed Republican members of the remap commission, saying they wanted “to make sure that no Democrat ever represents the Hi-Line”
The two Democrats on the panel vigorously fought the proposal, but they were outvoted by the two Republican members and the nonpartisan chair, Jim Reigner, a retired State Supreme Court justice.
Joe Lamson, a Democratic member of the panel, said the Hi-Line plan supported by Republicans was crafted to elect GOP lawmakers “from a part of the state that often elects Democrats. ”
Republican member Jon Bennion defended the plan, saying that it united the city of Glasgow in one Senate district, although it is divided into two House districts.
“It is a very big district, ” he said, but noted that the Hi-Line had suffered a substantial population loss since 2000, while the rest of the state gained population.
When Lamson’s name was called on the roll call, he voted “no, no, no. ”
Reigner counted that as one no vote, and then, without explanation, cast the deciding vote in favor of the GOP plan.
Jergeson blamed Bennion, one of the Republican members and the chief lobbyist for the Montana Chamber of Commerce, for the creation of the district. He said Reigner, while supposedly nonpartisan, had voted with Republicans on most partisan votes.
Jergeson said the Chamber was “a supposedly nonpartisan organization, ” but called Bennion “the most partisan” member of the commission.
He said Harlem, Chinook and Havre have traditionally been in the same district that has been the core of his support.
Under the GOP plan, in 2014 Jergeson would be assigned to represent a neighboring district that includes the city of Havre, western Hill County, Liberty and Chouteau counties and the northern part of Cascade County as far south as the Great Falls city line. Hill County voted for Jergeson in the 2012 election.
Jergeson could move to Havre and be eligible to run from that district in two years. He performed well in Havre in the Nov. 6 election, but he said that although he has always considered Havre to be a second home, he doesn’t plan to move from his Chinook home.
But he promised “to work my butt off for my constituents, ” no matter who they are.
Brenden was just as displeased with the new boundary lines and opened the door to a court challenge to the district.
“It’s a total disaster the way it is, ” he said.
Brenden said he and Jergeson testified before the remap commission, both opposed to the proposed lines.
“See, sometimes Democrats and Republicans can agree, ” he said.
His existing eastern Montana district is larger geographically than eight states and the district of Columbia, and the new district will be even larger.
Had his district moved to the south, he said, it would have had more of a community of interest, since much of the area is part of the Bakken oil fields.
He said Malta residents are pushing hard to get the city included in Brenden’s district. Under the plan, it is part of a district represented by State Sen. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder.
If Malta were moved into his district, part of the western end of the district could be shaved off and included in the Havre-based district, he said, thus making his district a bit less unmanageable.
Conceivably, that could put Jergeson’s Chinook home in the Havre-based district.
The commission will set up a public hearing in Helena on the proposal, and the Legislature can propose changes when it meets in January, but Reigner has the final say.