Just as the pandemic fades, Idaho politics will be confronted by another “big deal” issue: the 10-year census and what it will mean for the state. Idaho legislators are wrapping up this year’s contentious session, and those disputes will continue in the redistricting process.
From a national perspective, Idaho’s number of congressional seats isn’t likely to change, despite the state’s huge surge in population over the past decade. At just over 1.8 million residents, the state will still have just two Congressional districts, although they may change some due to population shifts. It would take about 710,000 people in each district and Idaho hasn’t grown enough for a third Congressional seat.
Still, we can expect to see plenty of political fireworks within the state, among Idaho’s rapidly growing cities and slower-growth rural areas. In some 15 states including Idaho, a redistricting commission determines how districts are configured. Idaho’s commission has six members, equally divided between Republicans and Democrats, with at least four members needed to approved any plan.
The U.S. Constitution leaves to the states how to allocate each district but since the 1960 court rulings, states must follow the “one man-one vote” principle that districts should be equal in population, plus or minus five percent.
In Idaho, with a population estimate of about 1.826 million, approximately 52,000 people per legislative district would be needed across 35 districts. That’s about 7,000 more people per district than the 45,000 population per district in the 2010 census.
But we all know the growth has been uneven. Some districts have exploded in population, particularly in the Boise area and in Idaho’s other urban communities. Rural areas might well have seen declining populations, so they’ll be larger geographically to get 52,000 people in each one.
Against this background, there will be large disputes between Republican and Democratic parties over how to maximize their strengths and minimize weaknesses. Democrats, with less than 20 percent of the legislative seats, will fight hard to hold what they have.
A good example is District 26 which now includes Blaine, Camas, Gooding and Lincoln counties. The area has both liberal Wood River Valley towns as well as the three other more conservative counties. The district has remained one of Idaho’s few Democratic strongholds due to Blaine County, so Democrats will certainly try to “hang tough” to keep their local dominance.
On the other side, Republicans have their own intra-party fights, Arch-conservative rightists hope to expand their influence within the party with even-more rightist and ideological candidates, while more centrist Republicans will seek to bolster their numbers in the May, 2022 primary.
Both the Magic Valley and the Pocatello region are likely to reflect these contests. In the Magic Valley, legislative seats have been held by traditional Republicans. In Southeast Idaho, it’s been a more mixed picture among Democrats, traditional Republicans and arch-conservatives, who latch onto many issues but whom rarely determine long-term policies. And all of this will have to be decided before the May primary, just 13 months away.
It’s said that politics is a never-ending contest, as differences are rooted in both ideology and values as well as local circumstances. We’ll likely see plenty of these the coming redistricting contests.
Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls is a retired five-term Republican member of the Idaho House of Representatives, where he served as chairman of the Commerce & Human Resources Committee. Previously, he was editor and publisher of The Times-News (1982-2005). He can be reached at Stephen_Hartgen@hotmail.com.