HELENA — GOP lawmakers made their case this week to adjust the work of the panel redrawing Montana’s legislative districts for the next 10 years — but whether their appeals are adopted remains to be seen.
On mostly party-line votes, with Republicans in favor, the House and Senate passed resolutions asking the Districting and Apportionment Commission to change its statewide plan, which was tentatively adopted in December.
The Senate resolution, for example, said newly elected Republican Sen. Roger Webb of Billings should be assigned to a new district in 2014 that includes more people who voted for him in 2012. He would run for re-election in the new district in 2016.
“I guess what I’m asking is that I should be representing the people who just elected me,” he said during floor debate on the resolution Tuesday. “Only 18 percent of the people in (my assigned) district voted for me. That’s a long, far cry from the folks who just put me here.”
Yet the chairman of the five-member commission said Tuesday that it’s more likely to consider suggestions that have support from both parties.
“I felt that would be the type of recommendation that would be most persuasive to the commission,” said James Regnier.
The commission holds its final meeting Tuesday in Helena, after which it will submit the final plan to the secretary of state. The plan then becomes law for the 2014 elections, setting new boundaries for Montana’s 100 House districts and 50 Senate districts for the next 10 years.
The House redistricting resolution, which passed Monday on a 61-39, party-line vote, called for multiple changes in the commission’s tentative plan.
The Senate resolution, which passed 27-22 with only one Republican, Rick Ripley of Wolf Creek, voting against it, called only for reassignment of Webb and some changes in the Senate districts in Butte, Anaconda and surrounding areas.
Senate President Jeff Essmann, R-Billings, said those Senate districts should pair up rural areas, such as Jefferson County and the area between Deer Lodge and Anaconda, rather than including portions of urban Butte with surrounding rural areas.
Butte senators, however, said the GOP proposal would further dilute Butte’s representation at the Legislature.
“This is strictly political,” said Senate Minority Leader Jon Sesso, D-Butte. “It’s just an attempt to erode our compactness in Butte-Silver Bow.”
Regnier said the five-member commission, which has two Democrats and two Republicans, will take a “hard look” at suggestions in the resolutions, but isn’t likely to “rehash what we’ve rehashed before.”
The resolutions are the Legislature’s official comment on the new boundaries, which are redrawn every 10 years by the Districting and Apportionment Commission.
Regnier submitted the plan to the Legislature Jan. 8, giving lawmakers 30 days to comment before the commission holds its final meeting. The panel doesn’t have to adopt any of the Legislature’s suggestions.
Both the House and Senate resolutions asked that Webb be reassigned to the new District 22, which includes most of the Billings Heights, north of downtown. He has been assigned to new District 23, which includes a small portion of the Heights, part of west Billings and the suburban and rural area north of the Rimrocks.
Two other Senate district assignments also have drawn some comment:
— Senate District 17, which stretches from west of Havre all the way to North Dakota, along the Hi-Line. Sen. John Brenden, R-Scobey, has been assigned to represent the district the next four years, although the district also includes just-elected Sen. Greg Jergeson, D-Chinook, to fill out a two-year term. The assignment prevents him from running for re-election in the district in 2014.
— Senate District 9, which includes Shelby and the Rocky Mountain Front. Sen. Ripley has been assigned to represent the district the next four years, but it also includes Sen. Llew Jones, R-Conrad, who would not be able to run for re-election in 2014.