Kept waiting more than 15 minutes by tardy GOP redistricting commissioners Tuesday afternoon, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa couldn't resist ribbing the volunteer panel.
GOP Co-Chairman Evan Frasure patted Ysursa as he walked in the Capitol auditorium and said, "You gonna tell us we're all going to hell in a hand basket?"
Replied Ysursa, who defeated Frasure by a 2-to-1 margin in the 2002 GOP primary: "I don't want to state the obvious."
Ysursa was invited to appear by his fellow Republicans.
Ysursa then backed up his wisecrack with a warning: If you don't submit new district maps by the Sept. 6 deadline, you'll likely be called back to try again.
"The people of the state of Idaho when they passed the constitutional amendment wanted you to do this," Ysursa said. "I think you will accomplish it. Hopefully, it will be within the time frame; if not, later....As Larry the Cable Guy says, 'Get 'er done.'"
Ysursa is Idaho's chief election official. He predicted that the Idaho Supreme Court would order the three Republicans and three Democrats to reconvene, after finding the existing districts "obviously unconstitutional." For example, he said, Idaho's largest legislative district, in northwest Ada County, has nearly twice the population of the smallest, in Boise and Elmore counties. The U.S. Constitution requires near-equal population when districts are redrawn after the decennial census.
In the past, Ysursa said, the Idaho Supreme Court has "consistently deferred, deferred, kicked it back, kicked it back, kicked it back," and he expects the same if the commission doesn't meet its Sept. 6 deadline.
"I sincerely believe there will be a plan and it will be done by the commission," Ysursa said. "If it takes longer, so be it."
GOP Commission Lou Esposito pressed Ysursa to describe in detail the legal process should the commission fail in the coming days. "What would you do, Mr. Secretary?"
But Ysursa demurred, saying, "I cannot predict who would be a plaintiff, but we are talking with our counsel and exploring some procedures."
Ysursa did assure GOP Commissioner Lorna Finman that commissioners would be sued in their official capacity, not as individuals, should it come to that. The commission could be reconvened, or have its term extended, Ysursa said.
"Would that also include thumbscrews and whips and chains necessary to move the commission?" said Democratic Co-Chair Allen Andersen.
Ysursa then commended commissioners for their hard work. "It's grueling," he said. Commissioners are paid $75 a day, plus expenses. Finman has declined any payments.
After Ysursa left, Republicans and Democrats rehashed their differences, which don't appear to have narrowed since their last meeting on Aug. 17. Democrats continue to insist on keeping as many counties whole as possible, while Republicans critique Democrats' plans for sprawling districts like District 2, which would run from Lake Pend Oreille to Riggins.
Condensing District 2 would mean changes that would upset other areas, said Democratic Commissioner George Moses. "Some of them pinch, some of them pinch quite hard," Moses said.
Replied Esposito: "There is a difference between discomfort and doing violence. District 2 does violence to the people of Bonner, Shoshone, Clearwater and Idaho counties."
Frasure said he's working on maps to reduce county splits, but doesn't yet have agreement among his GOP colleagues. Frasure had said Tuesday morning that he would present a plan Tuesday afternoon. "The clock is running," said a chagrined Frasure. "Hopefully by Friday we can have consensus on this side to present something."
Esposito urged Democrats to make a counter offer as well. "I strongly recommend you take some time and bring us something."
At day's end, Democratic Commissioner Julie Kane said she would present a revised map for North Idaho to Finman for her review. The commission returns Friday at 10 a.m., and also has meetings set for Saturday, Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
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