By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- Once a decade, Oregon lawmakers are charged with redrawing the state's House and Senate districts. Their last five attempts have failed. When that happens, the secretary of state takes over.
With the Legislature's two parties nearly evenly split -- there are 46 Democrats and 44 Republicans in the two chambers -- Sen. Chris Telfer, R-Bend, one of four lawmakers leading the attempt to draw the new map, is optimistic lawmakers can accomplish a task they have failed to achieve during the last 60 years.
Capital Press sat down with Telfer May 27.
Q Earlier in the session, it seemed like the two party maps were very different. What are the odds you can agree on one map before the session closes?
A I think they are high. If we as a Legislature this year, as balanced as we are, cannot do a bipartisan map, it can't be done. There are going to have to be some concessions. Not everybody is going to be happy. Not everybody is going to get what they want. But I think we are committed to trying to work together.
Q It sounds like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourselves.
A We are putting a tremendous amount of pressure on ourselves. It is a very daunting task. It is one of the most difficult things I've done, because it is political. As much as you want to say this map should not be political, it is political. You've got political people drawing the lines, and everybody has filtered glasses.
Q Are you focusing more on keeping together communities of common interest versus respecting political and geographic boundaries?
A I think it has come down to that. We've got the geographic boundaries. We've got the political boundaries, the school districts. It is like a big balloon, though. The problem is you push on one thing, and the whole balloon changes.
We're trying to keep communities of interest whole. We're trying to not separate cities. We're trying to keep counties whole. In some cases it is impossible.
My goal is to give Oregonians the best representation. Now, some are going to feel like they are underrepresented or overrepresented. You've got to balance it. You cannot please everybody. You've got 90 legislators that you're not going to totally please.
Plus you have 10 years of history here where people are used to having a certain person or type of person represent them, and that may change.
In my county, Deschutes County, I have the largest Senate district, and I have to spin off the most people. Well, people in my district are used to picking up the phone and saying, 'Can you come out at 8 o'clock in the morning for a breakfast and meet with a bunch of people,' and I'm there. Now some of those people will not have a senator that is closer than three hours away.
Q Are you concerned that when this map is redrawn there will be fewer Republicans in this building because of the reconfiguration?
A Obviously as a Republican I would love to draw the map and pick up seats or at least hold ground, but that is where the bipartisanship comes into play, because they don't want to lose seats, either.
We have to negotiate and come up with a compromise. The map is going to be full of compromises.
Q Given your current optimism, you must have come a long way in the last few weeks. We heard, for example, the Republicans' first map for Senate districts was a nonstarter.
A Their map was a nonstarter for us, too. We started at opposite ends of the spectrum.