Montana’s political districts are due for redrawing, and the commission in charge will hold a public hearing Monday night in Billings.
The state Districting and Apportionment Commission, charged with redrawing all 150 Montana legislative districts and any potential congressional boundaries, will hold a 6:30 p.m. public meeting Monday in the first-floor conference room of Montana State University Billings’ downtown office, 214 N. Broadway. The meeting will be linked to Miles Community College for live videoconferencing.
Friday, Republicans were beating the bushes for partisan attendees to the meeting. GOP leaders say the 2000 districting commission dominated by Democrats used precinct voting trends to draw districts favorable for Democratic legislators.
“The party has a fairly simple message when it comes to redistricting,” said Bowen Greenwood, Montana Republican Party chief executive. “We think the districts should be the same size. Districts should be drawn without regard to partisan election outcomes. Communities should be kept together. And we don’t believe the current districts represent a good starting point because the current districts don’t stand up to those principles.”
Every 10 years in conjunction with the U.S. Census, Montana’s political lines are redrawn, essentially by taking the new state population estimate, dividing it by 100 and roughing out 100 political districts for the state House of Representatives. Those districts are then paired to create 50 state Senate districts.
But all districts do not wind up equally populated. State law allows each House district to vary from its ideal equivalent of 1/100th of the state’s population. Republicans say many of the districts they represent were considerably larger, while some districts represented by Democrats were smaller.
“It’s not fair if one representative has to represent 9,400 people and the next one up the road has only 8,600,” is how the party presented the argument Friday on its Web site: http://mtgop.org/?p28.
The party suggested Republicans attending the Billings meeting request a population difference among districts of no more than 1 percent.
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Democrats say current political districts, drawn a decade ago and in effect from 2004 to 2013, were fine. The two parties have been neck and neck for control of the House and Senate. And Republicans were unsuccessful in suing over the way redistricting was handled.
“The assumption was that the last go around was very problematic and somehow did not pass legal muster, which is not correct,” said Sen. Kim Gillan, D-Billings.
Gillan said urban districts like the one she represents in the Billings Heights might have been smaller in size when they were redrawn, but quickly filled out with new homes and voters over the past decade.
Democrats are encouraging people to attend Monday’s meeting, but they’re not front loading them with talking points, she said.
This year’s Districting and Apportionment Commission, with four members selected along party lines by the Legislature and a fifth member appointed by the state Supreme Court, again faces challenges brought on by population declines in Eastern Montana and heavy growth in Western Montana counties like Gallatin, Missoula, Bitterroot and Flathead.
The Republican appointments to the commission were Linda Vaughey, former state political practices commissioner and Jon Bennion, of the Montana Chamber of Commerce. The Democrats appointed Joe Lamson, deputy director of the state Department of Natural Resources and Conservation and Pat Smith, a Missoula attorney and member of the Assiniboine Tribe. The Supreme Court appointed former Justice Jim Regnier, of Lakeside. Based on campaign donations, Regnier appears to be a Democrat.