Catching most of the headlines out of last month’s redrawing of political districts in Oregon was the addition of a sixth seat in the U.S. Congress, something that the state hadn’t seen in 40 years. But the process also involved changes with legislative district lines.
The changes will impact Philomath.
In the Oregon House, Philomath will move out of District 16 and into District 10. Current legislators in those positions are Rep. Dan Rayfield (D-Corvallis) in District 16 and Rep. David Gomberg (D-Otis) in District 10.
To clarify, all 60 of the state’s legislators will continue to represent their current districts through the end of their elected two-year terms on Jan. 9, 2023. However, if Gomberg and Rayfield both plan to run again, they would do so within their new districts in the 2022 elections.
“I think the simple way to think about it is Oregon has been growing, but it doesn’t necessarily grow proportionally so the same percentage of population shifts around,” Rayfield said. “Every 10 years, to make sure everybody gets one person, one vote … the Legislature redraws the district boundaries to make sure each representative and each senator is representing the right amount of constituents. So that’s the process we went through.”
Gomberg’s current district stretches from the Tillamook city limits down to Yachats and then goes inland to Sheridan in Yamhill County and Falls City in Polk County.
“So the districts changed and they have consolidated all of Lincoln County into one district and all of Tillamook into another district,” Gomberg said. “They have removed Tillamook and Yamhill and Polk County from my district. The biggest change — if you look at the maps, you can see that they are stretching the district to include the city of Philomath and some of rural Benton and Lane counties … taking it almost to the edge of Junction City.”
Gomberg was asked if the dynamics of an inland community like Philomath differ from that of a Central Coast city.
“The answer to that is going to be yes, but I think Philomath has more in common with Newport than Sheridan or Falls City does (communities currently in his district) and of course the natural link we have here, is you have OSU to your west and to your east and you’ve got the new and improved Highway 20 connecting you,” he said.
Gomberg said that he looks “forward to getting to know Philomath better” although he feels that he does know the city in many ways.
“A third of the people that work in Newport don’t live in Newport and I know people that drive from Philomath to Toledo or to Newport every day for work. That’s part of it,” Gomberg said.
Rayfield doesn’t like seeing Philomath leaving his House district.
“That was probably the most painful part of this process,” said Rayfield, who lives in Corvallis. “Frankly, I can ride my bike to Philomath … I’m rather attached to Philomath, the people of Philomath. The communities are different but very similar, so you see those maps and it’s ‘ughhhh’ — inside you get that gut-wrenching feeling.
“At the same time, it’s bittersweet because there are (additions of) parts north up past Lewisburg and Adair Village, which I’ve often looked at and thought, ‘huh, it would make sense if that was bunched up into the entire district.’”
Rayfield believes that in a way, Philomath will have additional representation.
“What I told Rep. Gomberg — who’s amazing by the way — was Philomath will now have two representatives representing them instead of one,” he said. “When you develop an attachment to a community, you’re just not going to let it go. It’s still a part of you.”
Rayfield added that it’s important to have those voices in Salem that represent the more rural areas of the state.
“This often feels like it is Portland, Salem, Eugene — and this mid-Willamette Valley gets missed often,” he said. “So to be able to drag Rep. Gomberg over here with everybody else will be a blast. He has a great sense of humor and countless puns. I think Philomath will enjoy him and I know I will.”
The State Legislature goes through the redistricting process every 10 years based on population shifts that come out of the Census. However, last month’s action represented only the third time since 1910 that the Legislature had been successful at approving new maps. On other occasions, the task fell to the secretary of state or the courts (and there are legal challenges on the current redistricting plans).
Gov. Kate Brown signed Senate Bill 882 to create the state’s new state legislative districts and Senate Bill 881 to establish six new congressional districts.
“There have been significant population shifts and changes in Oregon that resulted in a new congressional district, which is good news, but also resulted in some changes for the legislative districts,” Gomberg said.
Beyond the requirement to focus on equivalent populations, other statutory rules are in place while passing legal maps, such as trying to maintain geographical boundaries (rivers, mountain ranges), political boundaries (cities, counties) and transportation lines (major highways). Also, lawmakers must not separate “communities of interest” — something Gomberg identified as the most important criteria although it’s the hardest to define — and to avoid gerrymandering, a tactic that favors political parties or incumbents.
Separate Senate and House redistricting committees hold a series of meetings and hearings leading up to the drawing of new maps.
“Those two committees were in charge of doing the community outreach across the state, gathering the data that came late in this process and then eventually just developing the maps,” Rayfield explained.
Neither Rayfield nor Gomberg served on the House redistricting committee.
Gomberg said he’s a representative that enjoys meeting with his constituents.
“If you ask around out here you’ll hear that Gomberg is an in-your-face legislator,” he said. “I spend every day out in the district and I’m looking forward to (visiting) the chambers of commerce and meeting with city council members and doing those town halls, doing the Benton County legislative updates.”
In that latter example, Gomberg was referring to updates organized by the League of Women Voters in partnership with the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library. Rayfield said he mentioned those opportunities to Gomberg.
“I said, ‘now Rep. Gomberg, you’re going to have to put a few extra miles on your car and come out for these every month’ and that will be a lot of fun because I think the unique thing that this area can benefit from is having more voices represented in the area,” Rayfield said.
Both Gomberg and Rayfield had kind words about each other.
“Dan’s a good guy and a damn fine legislator,” Gomberg said, mentioning that both are involved with the Ways and Means Committee — Rayfield as a co-chair and Gomberg as a vice co-chair.
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