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Meridian’s growth illustrates challenges redistricting commission faces

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State Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, speaks to redistricting commissioners Sept. 16, 2021 at Meridian City Hall. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Bipartisan commission will travel to Eagle for public hearing on Friday

Residents of one of the United States’ fastest-growing cities picked apart three proposed political boundary maps during a public hearing hosted by Idaho’s bipartisan redistricting commission Thursday.

Commissioners presented three new maps — two proposed congressional maps and one proposed legislative map. The maps are early rough drafts intended to spark public debate, not represent a final proposal from the six-member commission that convened Sept. 1.

It’s the commissioners’ job to redraw Idaho’s two congressional districts and 35 legislative districts by Nov. 30. They are using new 2020 census data, and their goal is to ensure political representation is equal across the state.

The three proposed maps, which are available under the “maps” tab on the redistricting commission’s website, show how much Idaho has changed since the 2010 census. Members of the public may also propose maps; maps submitted by Idahoans are being uploaded to the redistricting commission website as well.

“We want you to see for yourself how the population has dramatically changed in Idaho in certain regions over the last decade,” commission co-chairman Bart Davis said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Idaho was the second-fastest growing state since 2010, and Meridian was the fourth-fastest growing city in the U.S. over the previous 10 years.

Thursday’s afternoon hearing at Meridian City Hall attracted about 20 people or so. That included several elected officials and political candidates, including Sen. Lori Den Hartog, R-Meridian, Meridian Mayor Robert Simison, Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane and Republican superintendent of public instruction candidate Branden Durst.

Ada County (where Boise and Meridian are located) and the rest of the Treasure Valley are the most populated parts of Idaho. That means those areas will need to be split up into multiple different legislative districts, as they have been for decades.

Den Hartog told commissioners how difficult it is to have Meridian split between so many districts.

Simison, Meridian’s mayor, said he hopes commissioners draw two legislative districts that are really “central to Meridian and really represent the community.”

But it wasn’t just the big cities of Boise and Meridian that got the attention. Several people who spoke talked about which districts the smaller towns of Kuna, Melba and Star should be placed in.

Den Hartog said Kuna, which is in Ada County, has more in common with Melba, which is in Canyon County, than it does with the much larger city of Meridian. The problem is, a 2011 Idaho Supreme Court ruling directs commissioners to split as few of the state’s counties as possible.

“The more counties you split, the greater likelihood it will not survive judicial scrutiny,” Commissioner Davis said.

The proposed legislative map splits eights counties.

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Redistricting commissioner Tom Daley, right, talks with Jason Pretty Boy about a proposed legislative district map Sept. 16, 2021, in Meridian. (Clark Corbin/Idaho Capital Sun)

Jason Pretty Boy, a Kuna resident who testified, talked to commissioners about how drastically Idaho’s population had changed and grown over the past 10 years. He asked commissioners to consider growth over the long term and the bigger picture when they draw new boundaries.

“I am starting to see population swings that are far outdistancing what we are doing every 10 years (with redistricting),” Pretty Boy said.

Redistricting is a complicated process. But it will have far-reaching effects on Idaho government, elections and politics over the next 10 years. The maps commissioners draw will determine candidates Idahoans may vote for and who will represent them, their family and their neighbors in the Legislature and in Congress for the next decade.

“Yours is a big job because our democracy hinges on what you are going to come up with,” Pretty Boy told commissioners.

What’s next for Idaho’s redistricting commission?

The redistricting commission meets again at 7 p.m. Thursday in the Lincoln Auditorium at the Idaho Statehouse.

Then, commissioners will reconvene at 1 p.m. Friday in Eagle City Hall, 660 E. Civic Lane in Eagle.

Next week, commissioners head to North and North-Central Idaho for public hearings beginning Wednesday in Sandpoint and Coeur d’Alene.

Redistricting commission meetings are available to stream live online, for free, using Idaho Public Television’s Idaho in Session service. At the Idaho in Session website, search under the calendar for the correct day and click on “Commission for Reapportionment”