Drafting new House districts for 100 Montana lawmakers got off to a civil yet rocky start last week when a Democratic representative on the state commission charged with the task said a plan proposed by Republican members was "exactly" as he predicted — it favored the GOP.
Joe Lamson, a Democrat-appointed member to the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission, said the plan offered by GOP colleagues Jon Bennion and Linda Vaughey was similar to a map submitted in the 1990s that favored their party.
Lamson said their map took "the GOP point of view" and said he was discouraged that it would split the panel further rather than bring it closer together.
The GOP proposal is one of five plans before the commission charged with drafting new state House and Senate voting districts.
However, the Republican proposal appealed to some of the dozen or so people in the audience.
"I like this plan at first blush. It's way better than the other ones," said Leonard Wortman, Jefferson County commissioner, adding that it kept communities in the same districts.
Dan Happel, Madison County commissioner, said he wanted to keep his county intact as a voting district. He described some of the other proposals before the panel as "piecemeal."
According to the Montana Constitution and state law, the commission must submit a redistricting plan to the 2013 Legislature. The Legislature will then review the plan and submit any recommendations to the commission, which is not required to make changes based on the recommendations.
The five citizen members, appointed by legislative leaders and the Montana Supreme Court, released several draft plans in the spring and held 14 public hearings around the state to gather public comment.
The panel began a weeklong series of meetings Monday in Room 172 of the State Capitol. Meetings will start at 9 a.m. on subsequent days, as needed. Hearings on the state's 50 Senate district seats will likely begin in the fall, officials said.
Prior to meeting the commission was to review four drafted plans plus the existing map. Bennion and Vaughey submitted their plan, known as the "Criteria Map" during the first meeting.
Legislative Services staff submitted three maps: Urban Rural, which they said emphasized "clear lines between population centers and rural areas; Existing, which is the existing map; Deviation, described as focusing on "criteria on relative population equality between the districts; and Subdivision, which tried to keep political subdivisions intact.
Another plan, submitted by Lamson and fellow Democratic commissioner Pat Smith, is called "Communities," which state staff described as "integrates Montana communities of interest with multiple criteria."
The Big Sky Business Journal
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