Still no agreement on new MT congressional district maps

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Posted at 7:37 PM, Oct 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-30 21:37:11-04

HELENA — After hours of public testimony and back-and-forth debate Saturday, Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission still wasn’t able to agree on a single proposal for splitting the state into two congressional districts.

Maylinn Smith, the commission’s nonpartisan chair, again urged the two Democratic and two Republican commissioners to work toward a consensus. Both sides introduced updated maps late this week in order to get closer to that consensus, but each proposal still drew opposition from the other side.

CP 12, introduced by Republican commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek, would put all of Flathead County, Gallatin County and the Blackfeet Nation into a western district. It would put Lewis and Clark County in the eastern district, along with Jefferson County and Park County.

New Republican Proposal
CP 12, the new proposed congressional map from Republican commissioners Jeff Essmann and Dan Stusek.

CP 13, from Democratic commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller, was similar. It would put Park County in the western district and split Gallatin County north-south, with Bozeman, Big Sky and West Yellowstone in the west and Belgrade, Manhattan and Three Forks in the east. It would have most of Lewis and Clark County in the eastern district, but keep the city of Helena in the west.

New Democratic Proposal
CP 13, the new proposed congressional map from Democratic commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller.

Republicans said they adjusted their earlier proposal, CP 10, in order to address public comment that opposed splitting Gallatin County. Democrats said their new map was intended to combine aspects of CP 10 and their last plan, CP 11, and to keep Flathead County whole.

Miller objected to CP 12 because the Republicans on the commission had drawn a very similar proposal during a meeting last week, then chose not to put it forward for public comment. She said the map’s western district still wasn’t truly competitive between Democrats and Republicans, and that people hadn’t had enough time to give input about the new maps. She then made a motion to adopt CP 11, the Democrat’s earlier map that placed most of Flathead County in the eastern district.

Republicans refused to support CP 13, saying it broke up too many counties and was not as compact as their proposals. They also rejected CP 11, saying they wouldn’t endorse any map that put Kalispell in the eastern district.

When commissioners deadlocked, Smith broke the tie and voted against advancing CP 11. Instead, she called for delaying the decision to another hearing Thursday, Nov. 4, to give people more chance to weigh in – particularly on the new Republican proposal.

“I do not want to ignore a map that might be good for Montana because it didn’t get enough public comment,” she said.

You can find detailed maps of all four recent map proposals and leave comment at the Districting and Apportionment Commission’s website.

Before beginning their work session, commissioners accepted more than four hours of public comment. More than 100 people testified in person and online.

Most of the public comment Saturday was from people who came in from the Flathead. They particularly objected to CP 11 and other maps that split Flathead County.

Many of those speaking, echoing comments from state Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, said the commission should have emphasized geographical compactness – a required criteria – over political competitiveness. They spoke in favor of an earlier proposed map, CP 1, which simply split the state with a straight north-south line that put most of Gallatin County in the eastern district. Smith had previously said she wouldn’t support that plan.

Commissioners also heard from a number of commenters who opposed maps placing Helena in the eastern district. They argued Helena has historical ties with other western and southwestern Montana communities like Butte and Missoula.