Population in the state and congressional districts that serve Douglas County has declined, but how that will affect the new district maps being drawn by Oregon legislators remains unclear.
Redistricting committees in the House and Senate had already started their work when the announcement came two weeks ago that Oregon would definitely get a sixth congressional district. The addition had long been anticipated.
The districts are redrawn every 10 years following completion of the U.S. Census. Oregon is one of six states to gain at least one congressional district this year. Texas will get two and Colorado, Florida, Montana and North Carolina will also gain one seat.
The number of state legislative districts always remains the same, with 30 Senate districts and 60 House districts, but the boundaries must be shifted to keep an equal number of voters in each House district and an equal number in each Senate district.
U.S. House District 4, in Southwestern Oregon including Douglas County, has lost 22,787 people, more than any other district, while the population has grown in Districts 1, 3 and 5, which represent Northwestern Oregon, according to population estimates provided to the redistricting committees in April.
The three State House Districts that include parts of Douglas County have each lost between 2,500 and 4,999 people. State Senate District 1, which includes Roseburg and South County, has lost more than 7,500 people, and State Senate District 4, which includes North County, has lost between 3,000 and 7,499.
State Rep. Gary Leif, R-Roseburg, noted that the increased population is primarily located in the Portland and Bend areas.
“The most recent information from the redistricting process is that most, if not all, of the adjustments will come in those areas. As of now, we are not anticipating a lot of change in the more rural districts,” Leif said.
Leif said the current map was drawn with odd alignments to increase the power of urban districts and reduce the power of rural districts.
“I would like to see the districts more aligned with the populations they serve, but I doubt that will happen. Overall, I do not anticipate much, if any, changes in the rural districts of the state,” Leif said.
Sen. Dallas Heard, R-Myrtle Creek, said the current districts too often mismatch rural and urban areas, wedging them together into districts that don’t make sense.
He would like to see the new district map drawn differently.
“I just hope it represents communities of interests properly,” he said.
Though there is equal party membership in the House Redistricting Committee, Heard said he doubts that will make a difference in the end.
The Senate Redistricting Committee has three Democrats and two Republicans, and the Legislature as a whole is Democratic.
If they fail to complete their work on time, a judicial panel will draw the congressional district maps and Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan will draw the state legislative maps.
Heard said Fagan is “arguably the most partisan politician in the state.”
He said he doesn’t think his District 1 will change much because Southern Oregon is sparsely populated and conservative. Still, it might, he said.
“It would not be surprising to me that they would attempt to draw me out of my district,” he said.
The Oregon Supreme Court has extended the Legislature’s deadline to complete its work to Sept. 27. That decision came in the wake of Census delays caused by COVID-19, which left the Legislature too little time to complete its task by the July 1 constitutional deadline.
The state held virtual public hearings and took written comments from citizens around the state in March and April, with each hearing taking comment from one of the state’s current congressional districts.
Douglas County makes up part of the geographically large and diverse U.S. House District 4, currently served by U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Springfield.
Twenty-five residents of this district testified at the hearings and 41 submitted written testimony.
According to a summary in the legislative record, there were many comments about how to balance urban and rural areas.
Some said Eugene and the University of Oregon are overrepresented and dominate rural areas, leading to political division and distrust.
Concern was also expressed about communities being split between state legislative districts.
“Currently, Roseburg is divided among state House Districts 1, 2, and 7; and between Senate Districts 1 & 4. This makes it very challenging for people to know who their state legislators are, and for a unified voice from Roseburg to be reflected in the legislature,” said one commenter.