If Republican leaders try to hijack the redistricting process, they run the risk of compromising years of "remarkable success" at the polls.
That's the assessment from one of the architects of the GOP's success — Phil Batt, a former governor, lieutenant governor, legislator and state Republican chairman. Batt submitted a guest opinion today, criticizing House Speaker Lawerence Denney and GOP Chairman Norm Semanko for trying to fire redistricting commissioners Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen.
Writes Batt: "Our party leaders want to sully the reapportionment process for more political gain. I guess they want 100 percent Republicans of their own variety (Dolores and I probably don’t qualify).
"But I predict that Republican dominance in Idaho will decline rather than grow if we say neutrality has no place in reapportionment, and that the commission must do it our way or else."
This guest opinion will run in Thursday's Statesman. But given the timeliness of the issue, and Batt's stature within the Republican Party, this one was worth getting out sooner than later.
Here, in full, is Batt's guest opinion:
I entered the Idaho Legislature in 1965. It was a historic session — our first sales tax, complete revision of our judicial system and several other unique actions.
But the toughest nut of all to crack was in redrawing the lines of our legislative districts. The “Dirksen Amendment” requiring equal population of inhabitants in each of our state Senate districts had just taken effect.
Prior to reapportionment, Clark County, with a population of 500, had one state senator, as did Ada County with 40,000 plus. Radical change had to take place.
The 1965 session did its work, then came back in several special sessions to redraw the legislative lines. It was brutal work, with over half the 44 sitting state senators facing extinction. There was a lot of fighting, some remarkable statesmanship and some outrageous gerrymandering before that reapportionment was accomplished.
We are required to reapportion every 10 years and two more of these exercises also were riddled by extreme partisanship and gerrymandering.
The voters of Idaho decided they’d had enough. In 1994, they took this chore from the sitting legislators and created a bipartisan commission designated to do their work without regard to incumbency or political affiliation.
This year the process has not gone well. The first panel deadlocked over political considerations and gave up.
A new panel was appointed. The members declared that they would do the job strictly by the numbers and not for political expediency. Dolores Crow in particular, in word and action, demonstrated her determination to keep politics out of it. This commission voted unanimously, 6-0, for a plan that meets numerical equity but raises the ire of some politicians who are adversely affected.
Republican leaders announced that they are firing Commissioners Dolores Crow and Randy Hansen and replacing them with hard-line party loyalists. This may or may not be accepted. The leaders are branding Ms. Crow as a Republican in Name Only.
Labeling Dolores Crow as a RINO is ridiculous. She has been a steel-tough Republican and is just trying to do what she was appointed to do — to produce a plan based on facts and not on politics.
I took the reins of the Idaho Republican Party in 1991 when the Democrats were often defeating us at the polls. My hearty group of allies and I toured the state, holding regional meetings, organizing every county and selecting outstanding candidates for almost every political office.
The result was remarkable success. Since that time we’ve gained all the major offices. Our legislative majority has ranged from 70 to 85 percent.
Now our party leaders want to sully the reapportionment process for more political gain. I guess they want 100 percent Republicans of their own variety (Dolores and I probably don’t qualify).
But I predict that Republican dominance in Idaho will decline rather than grow if we say neutrality has no place in reapportionment, and that the commission must do it our way or else.