Speak up, or Baker County will be an afterthought in redistricting

April 02, 2001 11:00 pm

Baker, Union, Wallowa and Grant counties are not crowded enough to warrant a state house seat.

But the combined population of the four counties, which share a single phone directory, is only 591 shy of the magic 57,023.

Add in communities and ranches just outside the county lines, but within the Blue Mountain province, like Meacham, Ukiah and Service Creek, and you have a district that makes far more sense than our current House District 59, which sprawls from Halfway to Prineville.

Baker County and its neighbors must speak often and speak loud, however, if we hope to be more than an afterthought in the states redistricting process.

The Baker County Commission will take public comments on redistricting Wednesday at 10 a.m. at the Baker County Courthouse, 1995 Third Street.

Testimony, written or oral, can also be provided directly to the legislature. But we must also charge our city and county officials with making our voice heard in this process.

Every 10 years, lawmakers take hold of new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau to craft boundaries for the states 60 House and 30 Senate districts.

That means 57,023 per house seat and twice that for a Senate district.

And that is a difficult threshhold to make in Eastern Oregon.

More than just drawing arbitrary lines, lawmakers will endeavor to keep people with similar circumstances together in the same district.

In redistricting lingo, those are known as communities of interest.

Unfortunately, from Salem all of Eastern Oregon appears rural. The fine gradations between Baker City and Prineville part of our current House district and Hood River part of our current Senate district are lost in the shuffle.

Unless we make sure they arent.

Nothing is final, but the current proposals being batted around the Capitol arent built around Baker City. Instead, we are a possible amendment to existing districts, a mere afterthought.

One such plan would add us to the Senate district held by David Nelson of Pendleton.

Baker City could suffer under this arrangement and so could Pendleton.

Baker City is the second-largest community in our Senate district, and the largest in our House district.

Appending Baker County to Nelsons district would put Baker City in the third position behind Pendleton and La Grande.

The three towns are arguably a community of interest. We share rural, largely agrarian economies and are three of the four largest communities on the Eastern stretch of Interstate 84.

However, Union, Baker, Grant and Wallowa counties also share key transportation routes, including the Elkhorn Scenic Byway and the Hells Canyon All American Road, key routes for tourism and shipping in the Blue Mountains.

Similarly, Pendleton would do better grouped with other communities on the Columbia River that share shipping and environmental concerns.

A better move might be to build a Union, Baker, Grant and Wallowa county House district and combine that region with a part of Umatilla County and all of Malheur and Harney counties to form a true Eastern Oregon Senate seat.

Whatever the case, it will just happen to us unless we make it happen for us.