A Democratic lawmaker from Eugene is lending his voice to the court challenge of a redistricting plan passed by members of his own party last month. He contends he was gerrymandered out of a district to prevent him from challenging a sitting senator.
As part of a newly filed challenge to the Legislature’s plan to rejigger the state’s 90 legislative districts to reflect updated U.S. Census figures, state Rep. Marty Wilde says he made no secret of the possibility he might mount a primary challenge to state Sen. Floyd Prozanski, D-Eugene.
As a result, Wilde says, his corner of southeast Eugene was roped into a largely rural district. Not only did that likely guarantee Wilde’s district will be won by a Republican, it means Wilde does not live within the bounds of Prozanski’s senate district and so cannot challenge him without moving.
“I was told by Democratic leadership that the request… came from Senate leadership, and that they were inflexible on this matter,” Wilde said in a declaration filed with the Oregon Supreme Court.
That claim is at the heart of a lawsuit against the plan for new state House and Senate districts that lawmakers passed late last month. Wilde is not a plaintiff in that suit, which was filed Monday by two Lane County residents, David Calderwood and Gordon Culbertson. Rather, the lawmaker filed a declaration in support of the effort.
The challenge is not the only suit seeking to undo the new legislative maps. In another lawsuit filed Monday, two separate plaintiffs — including a former Republican lawmaker — make a broader case that lawmakers failed to consider nonpartisan proposals when passing maps, and instead protected incumbents’ interests. That suit seeks to fundamentally reshape House and Senate districts passed by lawmakers, and in scope resembles a Republican-led lawsuit seeking to undo new congressional districts passed by Democrats.
The challenge supported by Wilde is far more picayune. Rather than taking issue with the entirety of the new legislative maps, the new court case is only concerned with a conspicuously jutting boundary that places Wilde’s home just within the largely rural House District 12.
“While this case does not involve the momentous issues of a wholly partisan-gerrymandered map… it involves violations of law important to people in one part of Oregon that, respectfully, this Court should require the Secretary of State to correct,” the suit says.
The attorneys in the case are also representing former Secretary of State Bev Clarno and other Republicans in another lawsuit challenging Oregon’s new congressional maps. They say that by placing Wilde into a rural district, Democrats violated rules that districts should follow geographical and transportation links and that they improperly split a liberal portion of Eugene from its like-minded neighbors. They also argue that legislators did so for partisan reasons, which is against state law.
Plaintiffs Calderwood and Culbertson are asking the court to order the district boundaries be slightly altered. By removing the jutting segment that carves Wilde’s home out of House District 8, they argue, the maps would be more fair and Wilde could challenge Prozanski. Calderwood and Culbertson say the change could be done with minimal effort, and without impacting other districts.
Inquiries to Senate President Peter Courtney’s office and Prozanski were not immediately returned Monday, nor was an inquiry to House Speaker Tina Kotek’s office.
Wilde confirmed via text message that he was supporting the lawsuit.
“By passing a map that protects every single sitting senator from a primary challenge, while dividing communities of interest in my district in service of that goal, the Oregon Legislature failed to abide by the requirements of the law,” Wilde said in a statement. “I will never put the interests of any politician or party above those of my constituents. I trust the Oregon Supreme Court to defend my constituents and the rule of law.”
In a declaration filed with the court case, Wilde said he has been clear with Eugene-area officials — including Prozanski and state Sen. Lee Beyer, D-Springfield — that he is interested in pursuing a seat in the Senate. Prozanski is up for re-election in 2022.
Because each state Senate district is made up of two state House districts, Wilde’s home would need to be located within one of the two districts that overlap with Prozanski’s district to be able to mount a challenge. Wilde says his home was drawn outside of Prozanski’s district “with near-surgical precision.”
“The Senate leadership wanted to protect Senator Prozanski from my primary challenge,” he said.
The lawsuit is just the latest notable instance of Wilde challenging his party leadership’s control of the once-a-decade redistricting process, which helps decide which party holds political power for the next 10 years.
During hearings on proposed district maps last month, Wilde organized constituents to testify against a draft that would have split portions of the University of Oregon campus. The changes Wilde sought were ultimately made, but along with them came a tweak that moved him into House District 12.
In a letter to his House colleagues in late September, Wilde railed against that change, saying he was being punished for bucking party leaders.
“I can’t tell you how many people have told me in the last week ‘It’s not personal,’” Wilde wrote in the message. “My friends, it IS personal. I have it directly from both you and the Senate [Democrats] that this was insisted on by the Senate, even after Tina [Kotek] advocated for me…. I had the temerity to speak up, and I was punished for it.”
Others have downplayed Wilde’s claims. State Rep. Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, who led Democrats’ redistricting efforts in the House, has repeatedly denied that any lawmakers’ addresses were taken into account during the redistricting process.
In a response to Wilde’s claims, Salinas argued that the boundaries of his district were necessary to ensure each House district has roughly the same population, as required by law. The lines “reflect population growth, adherence to the law and feedback from the public,” Salinas said.
Even before the new fight, Wilde ruffled feathers among some members of his party when he stated that the district he currently represents, House District 11, was illegally gerrymandered when it was drawn in 2011.