Citizens OK with redistricting plan

There were no comments against a recommended legislative redistricting plan during a public meeting at the Deaver Community Center Tuesday evening.

Elaine Harvey

The few citizens attending the meeting were supportive of the plan, which would allow the Deaver-Frannie area to stay in House District No. 26 with Lovell, Cowley, Byron and Greybull. There were no comments, and apparently no attendees, from the Garland area, which would be split in two under the plan, with the town of Garland and a rural area to the west staying in House District 25 and the rural area east of Garland moving to District 26.

Rep. Elaine Harvey of Lovell, who represents House District 26 in the Wyoming Legislature, led the explanation of the plan, which she said Big Horn Basin legislators arrived at to keep the basin represented by nine legislators – three senators and six representatives.

Also speaking were Rep. Dave Bonner of Powell, who represents District 25, and Sen. Ray Peterson of Cowley (Senate District 19). Big Horn County Planner Jim Waller provided maps of the district boundaries projected via computer and a projector onto a screen.

Harvey explained that with the state growing and the legislature deciding to keep its membership at 30 members of the senate and 60 members of the house, the ideal number of residents per house district has grown to 9,394 under the “one person, one vote” principle required by the Wyoming Supreme Court. The legislature is required to redistrict every 10 years following the census.

The court allows a deviation from the ideal of plus or minus 5 percent, and with Park County – especially the Powell area – growing and Washakie and Hot Springs counties losing population, the task of redistricting was challenging, Harvey said, but guidelines established by the legislature helped with the process. Under the guidelines any plan must include principles like communities of interest and geography.

One early idea had Harvey, a Lovell resident, representing people in the Dayton-Ranchester area, which fit neither principle, she said. The current plan meets the geographic principle, she said, though it may be problematic for some areas in regard to the principle of “like communities.”

The goal all along was to maintain what Harvey called “the Big Horn Basin group” of legislators, noting, “We work well together.”

Harvey said the legislators in the basin communicate often agree on issues and legislation and tend to support each other’s bills when they come up on the floor. That kind of support is important to Big Horn Basin communities, she said.

“I feel that if we lose any of our nine area legislators, there will be other things we lose in the process,” she said, noting cooperative work on such things as the Bureau of Land Management land planning process and economic development projects.

“Hot Springs County wanted a dinosaur museum. Did that help Deaver? I don’t know, but it helps the Big Horn Basin,” Harvey said. “I stood beside Lorraine (Quarberg of Thermopolis) on that issue. This explains why we drew the map the way we did.”

Harvey said the plan is still just a proposal and must be examined by county clerks at an Oct. 17 meeting, with clerks likely to tweak the district lines a bit to better fit special district boundaries, followed by legislative committee work and work by the legislature as a whole.

She said the lack of opposition shown Tuesday will help.

“This is a plan sponsored by Big Horn Basin legislators. This is not the final product. It may be, but we can’t guarantee that,” Harvey said.

While the plan will split Garland, it will reunify Willwood, Harvey said, which is currently divided between House Districts 26 (Harvey) and 50 (Pat Childers of Cody). Under the plan, all of Willwood would become part of House District 50.

Harvey said she likes that idea, even though she will lose part of the Willwood, because she will retain Deaver and Frannie – communities of interest – in District 26. She admitted that the portion of the Garland area that will become part of District 26 would not fit the community of interest principle, but the split had to be done to maintain the nine legislators in the basin.

Bonner said he “totally supports” the new model because it maintains the ties the Big Horn Basin delegation has had for many years, through which legislators support each other’s communities and issues from Northwest College to basin municipalities.

It is important to maintain the integrity of the Big Horn Basin delegation, and Park County is willing to share, Bonner said.

“The real question is, are you OK with what we’re doing?” Harvey asked. “Have we maintained communities of interest? Have we hurt or helped you in any way?”

Sen. Peterson said he has no problem with who legislators represent, noting that all legislators in the basin are willing to help any resident who calls. The area likely to cause some heartburn, he said, is the fact that, with districts being spread far and wide, it will be difficult for people from a small, far-flung community without ties to a larger area to run for office.

For instance, he said, under the plan, Meeteetse, which is aligned closely with Cody, would be in District 28, which would stretch from northern Fremont County through Hot Springs County and part of Washakie County to Meeteetse in Park County. Thus, while a person from Meeteetse might be able to run for office successfully in District 50 (Cody, a community of interest), he or she would have an uphill battle in District 28, with the largest number of voters in Thermopolis, which is not closely tied to Meeteetse.

He said it was odd when he first ran for the Senate to not campaign in Basin and other portions of south Big Horn County, which he had represented as a county commissioner, because the area was in a different house district.

“But this is the best we could come up with,” Peterson said.

Craig Sorenson of Deaver said he likes the proposal because the legislative district lines would closely follow the lines of the Deaver-Frannie fire district and the Deaver Irrigation District.

“As far as I’m concerned, it looks good to me,” he said.

By David Peck