Census says urban population grew as rural areas declined
By SEAN ELLIS
BOISE -- Farmers and ranchers are watching with a wary eye as Idaho prepares to redraw legislative districts, concerned that agriculture in Idaho may lose clout.
Because Idaho's rapid population growth during the previous decade was centered in the state's larger urban areas, they're worried that agriculture will emerge with less of a voice in the Idaho Legislature.
The math is simple, said Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, vice chair of the House's Agricultural Affairs Committee.
"Rural areas have lost population and urban areas have gained population," said Boyle, whose family farms and ranches. "That means urban areas will gain some representation and rural areas will lose some."
Idaho's population soared 21 percent to 1.57 million from 2000 to 2010. The latest census data shows the gains were heavily concentrated in the urban area around Boise, the state's largest city in the largest county, Ada.
For example, while Ada County grew by 30.4 percent from 2000 to 2010 and adjacent Canyon County grew by 43.7 percent, rural Bear Lake and Caribou counties shrunk by 6.6 percent and 4.7 percent.
It was like that all around the state, as urban areas gained population and rural areas stayed stagnant or saw declines. That means those rural areas will have less of a voice when the state's redistricting process is completed later this year.
Rick Waitley, executive director of Food Producers of Idaho, said reapportionment will have an impact on the makeup of the Idaho Legislature, but it's up to agricultural groups to help define the extent of that impact.
He said it's less important for farmers and ranchers to select candidates based on where they live than it is to vote for people who have open minds and are willing to be educated about issues affecting their industry.
"It's been my experience that it's all about the ability of legislators to be educated about our issues," Waitley said. "I don't really care what their home address is."
Boyle said it will be up to farmers and ranchers to educate lawmakers.
"I know some urban legislators who are awesome on ag issues," she said.
"Pay attention to who's running and talk to them to find out who's ag-friendly or willing to learn about ag issues."
Idaho has 35 legislative districts, each with a senator and two representatives. Idaho's new legislative map must have 30 to 35 districts and the population of each must fall within a 10 percent margin.
Idaho's Commission on Reapportionment convenes June 7 and will include three Republicans and three Democrats. The nonlegislator commission members will be chosen by their respective parties and it will take a 4-2 vote for a plan to be accepted.
Part of the concern is that no one knows exactly how the process is going to shake out.
"We know we're going to lose rural representation, we're just not sure where yet," said John Thompson, a spokesman for Idaho Farm Bureau Federation, the state's largest general farm organization. "It's hard to pinpoint what's going to happen."