REDISTRICTING PLAN REMAINS IN LIMBO
October 16, 2001 11:00 pm

SALEM The Oregon Supreme Court refused to approve a legislative redistricting plan by a constitutional deadline Monday, signaling that it may accept some or all of 13 challenges to the plan, including two from Curry County.

The courts decision not to give its seal of approval to Secretary of State Bill Bradburys redistricting plan raised the hopes of South Coast officials that the areas present coastal Senate district might be reinstated.

Bradbury, a Democrat, was given the task to draw up a redistricting proposal after Democratic Gov. John Kitzhaber vetoed a Republican-sponsored plan passed by the Oregon Legislature this spring.

The justices gave no indication of what revisions would be required of Bradbury or what factors caused them to not reject all 13 petitions filed challenging the plan.

John Koskela, a paralegal for the court in Salem, concurred that no details of the action, or lack thereof, have been released publicly.

An opinion will be issued by the Nov. 1 deadline, he said on Tuesday. That will make it clear as to whats going to happen, but there is nothing specific at this time.

It probably will be sent back to the secretary of state for revisions.

One of the 13 petitions was filed by Ed Gray, Port of Brookings Harbor commissioner, and Bob Hagbom, mayor of Brookings, on behalf of South Coast residents.

The petition challenged the Bradbury plan because it severed in two the present Senate district represented by Sen. Ken Messerle, R-Coos Bay.

The established district runs along the coast from Florence south to the Oregon/California border.

The secretarys proposal enjoins Curry County and small parts of Coos County to much of Douglas County including Roseburg. It excludes Coos Bay or its northern Coos County neighbors.

In turn, Coos Bay and north Coos County are mixed into a senatorial district that includes the Newport/Lincoln City region and parts of Yamhill County, which is adjacent to the metro Portland area.

Messerle would represent the northern of the two new Senate districts, although he presently resides in the southern-most Senate district.

The petition argued that Bradburys plan was not in line with Oregon Constitution or state statute requirements for the redistricting process.

The primary arguments were that the secretary of states proposal splits a recognized community of interest the South Coast, and separates interest within a county Coos County, both violations of redistricting standards.

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Ed Trompke, an attorney with the Portland firm of Jordan and Schrader, which represented the City of Brookings and Port of Brookings Harbor in filing amicus briefs in support of the Gray/Hagbom petition, said Mondays court action was a good sign for the South Coast.

Most of the petitions involved based their arguments that Bradburys plan involved political gerrymandering, he said on Tuesday. That was not the focus of the South Coast petition.

We argued that the community of interest could not be diluted in redistricting.

Under Bradburys plan, 55-60 percent of the population of the proposed senate district for Curry County and the coastal area would have been in Roseburg, not a coastal district at all. It would have cost the South Coast strength in the Senate.

Trompke said he believes that the Supreme Court agreed with at least one of the arguments presented on behalf of the South Coast.

The bottom line is that the Port of Brookings Harbor and City of Brookings challenged Bradbury, he said, and the Supreme Court said they were right.

The Bradbury plan is flawed, and I expect (the courts decision) will result in better representation for the South Coast.

Trompke concurred with Koskelas statement that the court has until Nov. 1 to present its opinion on the redistricting plan.

At that time they will hand it back to Bradbury with instructions to correct to particularity, he said, specifically to the problems.

We are hopeful the court will instruct him to draw the Senate district to respect county lines and the community of interest.

That will mean Coos and Curry counties would be represented by one senator, effectively giving the South Coast a stronger voice in the state senate.

Gray was upbeat about the courts decision.

I think its a very wise move on their part, he said on Tuesday. It reinforces the idea that the South Coast is a community of interest.

Thats good, thats very good. It makes me feel good about what I did.

Hagbom said predicting the outcome of the courts action is not easy.

Of course, we dont know how it will all come out yet, he said. The Supreme Court has refused to approve the secretary of states plan, which has been our contention all along.

Well just have to cross our fingers from now until (Nov. 1) and see whats going to happen.

Hagbom is hoping the court recognizes the need for the South Coast to act legislatively as a cohesive component.

Our main effort was to maintain the South Coast district as a community, he said. We felt we have common grounds, common opportunities, common challenges.

We felt we should be able to continue to function as a unit as we have in the past, and we hope the court sees that too.

Bradburys office did not release a written press statement commenting on the Supreme Court decision, but his spokeswoman, Marian Hammond, said the secretary was still sure his plan would meet legal muster.

We expected the Supreme Court to address some technical issues we had found at fault with the plan, Hammond said. We are hopeful thats what (the court) is considering. We dont know for sure.

We are still confident the plan will stand up legally.

The secretary recognized that two changes would be needed to correct errors discovered in his plan after the Aug. 15 deadline when the redistricting proposal had to be submitted to the Supreme Court.

One of those problems concerned the mistaken assigning of 1,200 federal inmates in a prison in Yamhill County within the city limits of Sheridan, although the correctional facility is actually located outside the city limits.

The other error involved the assignment of two legislators into the wrong new districts.

The Oregon Attorney Generals office, which represented Bradbury before the Supreme Court, did not return a call for comment from The Pilot on Tuesday.

Russ Crabtree, Port of Brookings Harbor manager, said challenging Bradbury was a good idea.

We were right in filing a brief, he said Tuesday. Now it will be handed back to Bradbury by Nov. 1.

We dont know what the specific instructions to Bradbury from the Supreme Court will be yet.

Curry County Commissioner Lucie La Bont said it was unclear as to what the Supreme Court justices would do.

We dont know what the specificities are at this point, she said. We know that the Yamhill census problem had to be addressed, even Secretary Bradbury expected that to happen. But we dont know yet what the court will do.

When the Supreme Court makes its decisions, well have to live with it no matter what it is.

Marlyn Schafer, Curry County commissioner, was pleased with the passing of Mondays deadline.

Our first indication is that it will be sent back to Bradbury and he will be required to draw the districts around county lines, she said on Tuesday.

We do know its a win for the county and I am extremely pleased.

What we did was the right thing to do. We stayed on point and didnt get political.

That was a real plus for us.

Schafer said if Bradbury expected to win this battle without a fight, he was mistaken.

Im not the kind of person who rolls over and plays dead just because someone says no, she said. I will always fight for whats best for the county.

Messerle was unavailable for comment on Tuesday.

Rep. Wayne Krieger, R-Gold Beach, was cautiously optimistic about the Supreme Courts decision.

Its a positive that they havent outright rejected the petitions, he said. But well have to wait and see what they plan to do.

Not a lots happened yet. We dont know what theyre thinking. We have no clue as to what theyre going to do.

Once the court remands the redistricting plan to Bradbury for revision, he will have to complete the task and return the proposal to the justices by Dec. 1.

The Supreme Court will then have until Dec. 15 to approve the revised plan or make their own changes if they are dissatisfied with Bradburys work. The Oregon Constitution requires the new legislative districts to be in place by that date.