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Democrats pass new Oregon congressional map after GOP walkout ends

POLITICO logo POLITICO 9/27/2021 By Ally Mutnick
Oregon State House Speaker Tina Kotek addresses representatives on Sept. 21, 2021, during a special legislative session for redistricting congressional maps at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore. © Brian Hayes/Statesman-Journal via AP Oregon State House Speaker Tina Kotek addresses representatives on Sept. 21, 2021, during a special legislative session for redistricting congressional maps at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.

The Oregon state House reached a grudging compromise on a new congressional map that would create four Democratic districts, a safe Republican seat and one potential battleground, bringing an end to a bitter partisan standoff.

State House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat, gaveled the legislature into session on Monday morning, hours before a redistricting deadline, after a nearly week-long delay caused by a Covid scare and a Republican boycott. The agreement: Republican state representatives returned, and in return Democrats did not muscle through a map that would have given them solid control of five of the state’s six districts.

“You know, I’m never surprised by what happens in the Oregon Legislature,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) said as the process broke down last week.

The compromise map passed the state House on Monday afternoon in a 33-16 vote, and the state Senate concurred in an 18-6 vote. It now heads to Democratic Gov. Kate Brown's desk for her signature before midnight.

It was the capstone for a tough few days for Oregon Republicans, who were forced to choose between a series of bad choices that would determine their political fate at the state and federal level for the next decade.

Earlier this year, Kotek had given the GOP an effective veto over the maps in exchange for a pledge that they would stop stymying her legislature agenda with delay tactics — a move that enraged some Democrats in D.C., who hoped to leverage their total control in Oregon to pad their narrow majority in Congress in next year’s midterm elections.

But after neither party’s members on the redistricting committee could agree on a redistricting proposal, Kotek maneuvered around the GOP to advance the Democratic map out of committee — which had already passed the state Senate — and to the House floor.

The initial Democratic plan cracked Portland like a pinwheel, creating five seats that strongly favored Democrats, and one deep red seat in the eastern half of the state, currently held by GOP Rep. Cliff Bentz.

Republicans were irate at the reversal and were considering denying quorum until the Monday deadline had passed, a move that would send the map to a panel of judges, one from each of the five current congressional districts. Because Oregon has uniquely high quorum standards, Republicans wield a large amount of power for a party in the minority.

Kotek, state Senate President Peter Courtney and state House Minority Leader Christine Drazan consulted over the weekend on a compromise proposal, according to a source familiar with their discussions. But when Kotek tried to gavel in the session on Saturday morning, Republicans did not show up in the chamber.

Their departure would have also blocked the passage of their state legislative maps and left them up to Democratic Secretary of State Shemia Fagan — an outcome that Salem Republicans hardly relish.

Another deterrent: GOP legislators could face large fines for denying quorum.

Yet even the compromise map isn’t particularly favorable toward Republicans. The GOP proposal created three competitive seats, one safe Democratic seat and one safe red seat. In a good cycle for Republicans, the compromise map might give them control of two of the five seats.

"This doesn’t reflect Oregon and the way they vote. Full stop," state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, a Republican member of the redistricting committee, tweeted Saturday about the compromise proposal.

This new map places Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader’s home in the most competitive district in the state, but even then it still favors Democrats.

Schrader could also choose to run in the state’s new 6th District. That seat, allotted to Oregon in reapportionment, leans more Democratic and includes some of Schrader’s old turf.

Democratic Rep. Peter DeFazio is a big winner under the map — his western Oregon seat becomes less competitive. Blumenauer and fellow Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici will retain their deep-blue districts.

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