Redistricting commission assigns holdover senators ahead of hearing Wednesday

By: - December 19, 2022 5:12 pm

A tentatively adopted legislative map, prior to amendments, displayed outside a public hearing held at the Capitol on Dec. 10, 2022. (Photo by Nicole Girten)

Redistricting commissioners voted unanimously Monday to assign 25 “holdover senators” to new districts following the passage of the tentative senate district pairings last week.

The Montana Districting and Apportionment Commission assigned senators who were elected in 2022 and will serve the final two years of their four-year term in the district assigned by the commission. The new legislative map will affect the 2024 election.

Staff for the commission presented a “core constituency” report that compared the adjusted population in the proposed district to the previous district.

The criteria for assigning holdover senators was outlined in the commission’s goals, which said senators should be assigned to districts that contain “the greatest number of residents of the district from which they were previously elected when possible.”

Holdover senators were voted on without much debate, as compared to the rigorous back-and-forth conversation that took place last week regarding drawing House and Senate district lines. Republicans made suggestions for Senate “pairings” — which two House districts to combine to make the Senate district — near Helena and the Flathead that were then tabled for more discussion following public comment later this week.

Holdover Senators

Republican Commissioner Dan Stusek proposed a “more logical” pairing of House Districts in Lewis and Clark County than the currently adopted map.

House Districts 82 and 83 would pair part of Helena’s urban core with East Helena, as opposed to pairing the urban core with the Helena Valley as it’s drawn now. Stusek said the pairing of HD 82 and 83 would give Senator-elect Mary Ann Dunwell closer to 90 percent of her voters in Senate District 42. The district she was assigned to now includes the Gates of the Mountains Wilderness in HD 84 and contains about 60 percent of her constituency, Stusek said.

Senate and House districts in the Helena region from the tentatively proposed legislative map.

Switching these two districts would have a ripple effect in surrounding districts, for which Stusek had suggestions that would potentially help flip a Senate seat for the GOP.

“Senator-elect Dunwell’s being placed in a district that would be much more difficult for her to win in four years,” Stusek said. “It creates another Democratic seat for an additional two years in the legislature by having an open seat on the west end of Helena.”

Commissioner Kendra Miller, a Democrat on the commission, said it was interesting Stusek only flagged the issue in this region of the state.

“Following existing districts is not part of our criteria, and you haven’t asked for it in other places, except for when it benefited Republican incumbents in some areas,” she said.

Miller said Sen. John Esp, R-Big Timber, would be assigned to a district that leans Democrat in SD 29, which includes Livingston.

“So there is no partisan impact that benefits the Democratic Party. They are simply canceling each other out,” she said.

Miller said the Jefferson County pairing with HD 80 west of Helena was at the request of a Republican Jefferson County Commissioner.

“It seems to me that these are issues that are perfect for public comment,” said Commission Chair Maylinn Smith. “I don’t think we need to do anything in regards to this issue at this time.”

Commissioners then voted on holdover senators, all in favor of the assignments based on criteria that were filled out by Miller to align with the current map during a recess.

After voting, Republican Commissioner Jeff Essmann raised potentially pairing House Districts 12 and 13 near Polson, saying the request had been to basically draw a line from Yellow Bay over to Big Arm.

“The numbers just didn’t permit that. This was as close as I could get,” he said. “It would not have any impact on district pairings or holdover assignments.”

Miller said she didn’t see that in the public comment and said it would impact the current adopted map and holdover assignments in the Flathead.

Essmann said Miller was right.

“I was so focused on the task at hand I didn’t look to the next task,” he said. “I guess I’ll not be bringing a motion forward at this point.”

The full list of holdover senators is available on the commission’s website.

The updated tentatively adopted maps for both house and senate districts are now available online.

The commission will be holding a hearing Wednesday to get public comment on the proposed House and Senate maps. The public can attend in person at the Capitol or via Zoom.

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Nicole Girten
Nicole Girten

Nicole Girten is a reporter for the Daily Montanan. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune as a government watchdog reporter. She holds a degree from Florida State University and a Master of Science from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.