Laws? What laws? Do laws matter?
Heck yes, they do, and it appears that the redistricting battle over Montana’s new congressional district are headed to court because neither the “Republican” version nor the “Democrat” version upholds the requirements of HB506.
HB506, as explained yesterday in the Montana Daily Gazette, has certain requirements set forth by law. A draft request was received by legislative services on August 27, 2020, was introduced on February 19 by Paul Fielder, and was signed by Governor Gianforte on May 14.
- Based on population, ensuring roughly the same population in each district (roughly within 1%)
- The number of counties and cities divided within a district should be as small as possible (this does not prevent counties or cities being split, but should be weighed into consideration)
- Districts must be contiguous, or in one piece, unbroken geographically
- Districts must be compact, with their length not exceeding their height, any more than necessary while meeting the other qualifications.
- A district must not be drawn to favor one political party over another (read below from HB506)…
These are not suggestions for the five-commissioner “bi-partisan panel” to follow. This is the law. The two Democrats and two Republican commissioners could not agree on the fifth “Bi-Partisan” member so the Montana Supreme Court – a famously liberal body – chose a Native American woman who specialized in tribal law and who donates money exclusively to Democrats as the final “non-partisan” member of the panel. What they produced, as we explained yesterday, included only one map out of nine that actually followed the law. Two other maps were somewhat fair but failed to meet all the requirements set forth by HB506. Six were hot garbage designed to create a Democrat Super District in a state that elects Republicans by 15-point margins. Democrats call it “being competitive.”
As Alden Tonkay (who is running for HD98 and serves as treasurer of the Young Republicans) pointed out in his testimony to the commissioners last Tuesday, this is as much the fault of the Republican commissioners involved as the Democrats, who have shown all the backbone and fortitude of jellyfish.
In amazing news, the commission has announced that all nine maps have been scrapped and they’ve narrowed down their decision to two maps, for which they will take public comment. Please note that the commission has already wasted hundreds (when compiled) of public hours of citizens who have commented on the plans that the commission originally produced and discarded, leading all to rightly believe they don’t know what in the hell they’re doing.
Yesterday, Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission were supposed to bring out a single map for the state’s two new congressional districts Thursday, but instead, they have moved forward two proposals for the public to weigh in on. One is supposedly Republican. The other is supposedly Democrat. Neither are good.
The so-called Republican version breaks up Gallatin County, but maintains the liberal strongholds of Bozeman and Belgrade in the Western (Democrat) district). The positive side for Republicans is that it places Helena in the Eastern District while letting Glacier and Pondera Counties and Blackfeet Reservation remain in the Western District. Having Helena in the East will help Lewis & Clark’s liberalism be mitigated by Eastern Montana and Billings, but here’s what Democrats know…the liberal slip on Lewis & Clark County is slipping. Republicans are losing there by smaller and smaller margins, and the heavy-handedness during the COVID-19 government-instigated crisis has it even less likely to hold Lewis & Clark as a stronghold for Democrats. In short, some think Democrats are slowly losing Lewis & Clark County anyways, as they did nearby Cascade County, and so the Democrats on Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission must have considered it an acceptable sacrifice.
It is hard to find a lawful regulation in HB506 the Republican map doesn’t break, other than that it doesn’t overtly and obviously benefit one political party, in that it places Helena in the Eastern District. But almost all other rules, with the exception of population differential, the map seems to ignore. At worst, and as bad as this map is, it leaves the Flathead Valley in the Eastern District, helping to outweigh the liberal strongholds of Bozeman and the other “blue dots.”
The Democrat maps look slightly different. Notice that it places most of the Flathead Valley – a conservative stronghold – in the Eastern District, except for Whitefish (a tiny but dark blue dot in the Flathead Valley) in the Democrat-leaning Western District. Their intentions are obvious.
The two maps, entitled C10 and C11, are available to view on the redistricting website, along with information on how to testify on them on October 30.
Ultimately, Democrats, which thanks to the Supreme Court, outnumber Republicans 3-2. But by throwing out other map alternatives, like map 1, this change will make litigation harder for Republicans. Map 1, for example, is the only map that breaks none of the requirements of the law. This will likely confuse and prolong the legal process by which districts are inevitably chosen by a court, and not by the people of Montana.
Meanwhile, it is highly, highly advisable that Flathead Valley residents make it to the capitol to testify on October 30. Watch Derek Skees explain below.