Guest Opinion: Seventh Member Makes Sense for Restricting Commission

By Gretchen Clelland | Guest opinion

The Idaho House of Representatives State Affairs Committee recently sent HJR 2 to the floor with a do-pass recommendation. This bill would eventually send a measure to the voters to amend the Idaho Constitution and approve adding a seventh member to the Commission for Reapportionment, more commonly known as the redistricting commission.

Section 2(2), Article III of the Idaho Constitution, which the proposal would amend, currently reads:

“The commission shall be composed of six members. The leaders of the two largest political parties of each house of the legislature shall each designate one member and the state chairmen of the two largest political parties, determined by the vote cast for governor in the last gubernatorial election, shall each designate one member. In the event any appointing authority does not select the members within fifteen calendar days following the secretary of state’s order to form the commission, such members shall be appointed by the Supreme Court. No member of the commission may be an elected or appointed official in the state of Idaho at the time of designation or selection.”

In 1994, the Idaho Legislature passed Senate Joint Resolution 105.  This legislation put the matter on the November ballot. The measure passed with over 64% of the vote and amended the Idaho Constitution to create the current redistricting commission. The measure also provided that the Supreme Court have jurisdiction in appeals of legislative apportionment.

The commission is labeled as an independent. How is an even number of members who come from opposite sides of the spectrum in any way independent? Also, how is a decision made by this commission not going to end up in court?  In 2012 Twin Falls County sued the redistricting commission alleging the commission paid insufficient attention to County boundaries. Twin Falls County prevailed but the decision was not made until January. The commission was forced to redraw the map.  

RELATED: Speaker of the House Scott Bedke on HJR 2 – Video

HJR2 proposes to solve the issues created by the 1994 amendment. Again, the Idaho Constitution would need to be amended but it would change the “independent” commission to a more reasonable structure by adding a seventh member. That member would be appointed by the Constitutional officers.  That includes the Governor, Lt Governor, State Controller, State Treasurer and Superintendent of Public Instruction.

While the Constitutional officers are currently all Republicans, there is no guarantee that will always be the case. Opponents of the bill say a seventh member makes gerrymandering even more likely and Republicans will become more powerful. That sounds like the Democrats don’t have much faith in themselves.

Democrats have made the argument that this is a fairness issue; they’re correct on that point. Where they’re off base is in the argument that the redistricting commission makeup should be a 50/50 split. Using data from the Idaho Secretary of State’s office for February 2019, voter registration totals show that the total number of voters registered and affiliated with the Republican Party vs. the total number of registered voters affiliated with the Democratic Party in Idaho yields an 80/20 split. HJR 2 doesn’t propose an 80/20 split of Republicans to Democrats on the commission.

I’ve served on the Commission for Reapportionment since its inception. I can tell you from personal experience that there have been a lot of tie votes. There have been a lot of lawsuits. I anticipate the same thing will happen for years to come, regardless of who is appointed to the commission, until something changes.

Litigation is expensive. Stalemates delay results. Those results are important to adapt legislative districts to reflect the growth in our state.

Passage of HJR 2 would mean far less gridlock, impasse and lawsuits. A seventh member would mean, in case of a tie, the opinion of the majority of Idaho’s constituency would serve as a tie breaker. It’s not pro-Republican or pro-Democrat. It’s pro-majority. Most importantly, it is quite simply: fair.

Guest author Gretchen Clelland is a financial advisor and former chairwoman of the Twin Falls County Republican Central Committee. She has served on the Idaho Citizen’s Commission for Reapportionment since its inception in 2014. Clelland also served as a delegate to the most recent Idaho GOP Convention.

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