New congressional district maps emerge ahead of Saturday meeting

‘You’re still welcome to pursue a compromise proposal’

By: - October 29, 2021 4:03 pm

Montana’s Districting and Apportionment Commission formally began its task on Tuesday, May 25, 2021.(Photo by Eric Seidle/ For the Daily Montanan).

Democrats and Republicans on the Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission each released new congressional maps this week in an ostensible effort to reach compromise ahead of the commission’s meeting on Saturday, when the body is expected to choose a final map for public review.

The two new maps show that while philosophical and ideological differences exist between the commission’s partisan members, the gap between the two sides is at least beginning to narrow, ushered by the insistent consensus-building approach of redistricting commission Chair Maylinn Smith.

When the commission last met on October 21, it put forth two maps for public review, one from the two Democrats and the other from the two Republicans, with the intent of hearing comment and selecting a tentative final map at the October 30 meeting. But Smith made clear to the commissioners that more maps could still be introduced — neither pair was particularly pleased with the map of the other.

“We got an email over the weekend from the chair saying, ‘We’re not down to just two maps, you’re still welcome to pursue a compromise proposal,'” said Commissioner Jeff Essmann, a Republican.

The maps, as with many of their predecessors, divide the state into an eastern and western district. The new GOP map is a slight variation on a publicly submitted map from earlier in the process, keeping all counties but Pondera intact — the Blackfeet Reservation would go to the western district. Other key counties that would remain in the west include: Flathead (split in previous Democratic proposals), Glacier and Gallatin (split in previous GOP proposals). To the east would go Lewis and Clark County and Park County, as in the map the GOP put forth last week.

In their new map, Democratic Commissioners Joe Lamson and Kendra Miller kept Flathead County in the west, “acknowledging the importance of keeping Flathead County whole in a ‘western district’ that we have heard much testimony on from Republicans,” Miller said. The Democratic map moved forward at last week’s meeting would have cut out Whitefish and moved most of the rest of deep-red Flathead County to the (generally) more conservative eastern district.

In return, the new Democratic map cedes all but the city of Helena to the eastern district, splits off the top of Pondera County to keep the Blackfeet Reservation whole and in the west, and spits Gallatin County, keeping Bozeman and most everything south of it in the western district. Park County would also go to the west.

The new map, Miller said, ensures “the cities of Helena and Bozeman remain whole in a district with other southwestern Montana communities where they share a community of interest.”

While the new proposals show some concessions, neither exactly placated the other side’s commissioners. At first blush, Essmann said he questioned splitting three counties and the carveouts of Helena and Bozeman, and that Lewis and Clark county in its entirety belongs with Jefferson and Beaverhead.

Lamson, meanwhile, said the new GOP map was no compromise at all, and that it didn’t create the kind of competitive district in the west that Democrats had been looking for. (The Republican commissioners said their map has an R+1.26% lean based on the last four congressional races).

“What was quite clear is it was virtually the same map we had already rejected a week ago,” Lamson said. “All they changed was about 110 farmers on one side of a line up in Pondera County.”

The commission will discuss the new maps at Saturday’s meeting. If the four partisans can’t come to an agreement, Smith will cast a tie-breaking vote and put forth a map for final review by the public.

The new Republican proposal

The new Democratic proposal

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Arren Kimbel-Sannit
Arren Kimbel-Sannit

Arren Kimbel-Sannit is an Arizona-bred journalist who has covered politics, policy and power building at every level of government. Before getting his dose of northern exposure, Arren worked as a reporter in all manner of Arizona newsrooms, for the Dallas Morning News and for POLITICO in Washington, D.C. He has a special interest in how land-use decisions affect working-class people, which he displayed through reporting on the epidemic of pedestrian deaths in the U.S. for the Los Angeles Times and PBS Newshour. He's also covered housing, agriculture, the Trump presidency and more.