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Deal gives GOP more redistricting power to speed up bills

April 15, 2021 GMT

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Democrats have agreed to give up an advantage in redrawing the state’s political districts for the next 10 years in exchange for a commitment from Republicans to stop blocking bills in the Oregon Legislature with delay tactics.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports the surprise deal was reached Wednesday evening after a weeks-long standoff.

With the agreement, Democrats, stymied so far despite holding supermajorities in both legislative chambers, appear to have gained an easier path to passing much of the their agenda.

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But they’ve essentially granted veto power to Republicans, who can now block any map of legislative or congressional districts from passing.

“It’s a gamble,” said state Rep. Rob Nosse, D-Portland, shortly after the deal was reached.

Rep. Duane Stark, R-Grants Pass, moved that legislative rules requiring that bills be read in full before a final vote be suspended for the remainder of the 2021 session. Those are the same rules that Republicans have used to slow bill passage for more than a month.

Once that motion passed, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced a change to the House Redistricting Committee, one of two bodies with a primary responsibility for redrawing political maps this year. Kotek announced she would be bumping up the committee’s vice chair, Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany, to co-chair, and adding another Republican to the body, House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby.

That change means that Republicans and Democrats will be evenly split on the committee with three members apiece, and so a party-line vote will be insufficient to pass new maps.

The deal gives Republicans more say over what boundaries for the state’s 90 legislative districts will look like for the next 10 years, a decision that can hold enormous sway over the distribution of power in the state.

Republicans also have increased their influence in how to divide the state into six congressional districts, rather than the current five, if Oregon is awarded an additional seat in the U.S. House of Representatives as expected.

But Democrats have retained a backstop, too — particularly when it comes to legislative districts. If lawmakers fail to successfully pass new legislative boundaries by late September, the task will fall to Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, a progressive Democrat who few Republicans would want to see in charge of that process.

Should lawmakers fail to come to an agreement on new U.S. House districts, the matter would be settled in the courts.