Oregon's Redistricting Drama Is Just Getting Started

Start up your office betting pool with our handy cheat sheet.

By Julia Silverman September 21, 2021

The conversations about redistricting could change who you're voting for in 2022 and beyond.

So, you work in the world’s wonkiest office, and your team is all hyped up to start a betting pool on the outcomes of this week’s polarized attempt in the Oregon legislature at redrawing congressional and legislative boundaries? We hear you—here’s a quick look at what’s at stakes and our best odds on the potential outcomes. Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.

But first —what’s all the fuss about?

Every 10 years, once census results are in, states are charged with redrawing political boundaries—basically, who you vote for, which depends on where you live. As populations shift, so too do those boundaries. This year, the entire process is especially fraught in Oregon for two reasons.

First, we’ve attracted enough California transplants to merit a sixth Congressional seat, no small prize with control of the US Congress and President Biden’s entire agenda for the second half of his presidency hanging in the balance (no pressure though.)

Second, earlier this year, to convince Republicans to stop staging quorum-denying walkouts during the Oregon Legislative session, House Speaker Tina Kotek—now considered the frontrunner for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in 2022—promised the GOP equal say in redistricting talks, in exchange for cooperation during the session.

On Monday, during an emotionally charged special session in Salem, that all went to pot. Though the Oregon Senate managed to pass both congressional and legislative maps along party lines, the process broke down in the Oregon House.

In response, Kotek announced the creation of two new committees, one focused on congressional districts and with a Democratic membership edge and one on legislative districts, all over strenuous objections from her Republican counterparts. The fight is really over the Democrat’s preferred U.S. Congressional map, which includes a portion of the vote-rich, left-leaning Portland area in four of six districts, meaning five of the six seats are leaning Democratic, even though that isn’t necessarily reflective of Oregon’s broader electorate. (A 4-2 split would be closer; boundaries could also be adjusted to allow for more truly competitive seats.)

Either way, there needs to be an answer by September 27, or else the legislature loses control of the entire situation. If they can’t agree, Oregon Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, who is about as progressive as politicians in Oregon get, would be in charge of drawing the state legislative lines, which she could do to give Democrats a fighting chance at a quorum-proof majority. The congressional districts, meanwhile, would get settled by an independent panel appointed by the Chief Justice of the Oregon State Supreme Court.

Bottom line?

Oregon Republicans face a Sophie’s Choice. They can protest on behalf of national Republicans and their party’s Congressional chances and wind up risking their own seats if Fagan gets to make the maps, or they can salvage their own chances at clawing back some more statehouse seats by going along with the current plan and sacrificing those Congressional districts. That’s where the betting comes in.

To the odds!

2-1: Odds that Republicans fail to show up for debate in the Oregon Capitol on Wednesday, denying Democrats a quorum to move forward. This is a tactic that’s been used before in Salem, with a decent track record. (Note that a number of measures hoping to qualify for the 2022 ballot are seeking to blunt this weapon, by fining members who fail to report for duty.) Already, the chamber was due to convene at 10 am on Tuesday, which was pushed back to 1 pm, and then put off until Wednesday, due to a Covid case in the Capitol, per reports.

3-2: Odds that the state GOP eventually caves and agrees to the plan that protects their own seats at the expense of the Congressional map, though not without some furious floor speeches first. Politicians, after all, are nothing if not self-serving—and there’s more than one Republican out there that doesn’t care for the idea of Democrats having veto-proof majorities at all levels of state government.

1-2: Odds that the independent panel would come up with a Congressional map that creates more competitive races for Democratic incumbents Kurt Schrader and Peter DeFazio, both of whom are in swing districts.

 1-1: Chances that there is some fairly furious background politicking going on right now. 

1-1: Chances that the entire mess winds up in the court system and isn’t over until at least next winter. (Sigh. Can’t say we love these odds.)

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