Laird: Gerrymandering? No, it’s sovereignty

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor



The telephone ring sounded all too familiar. Amboy recycler Hubcap T. Hamslockner was calling to complain again about local politics. “C-Tran gerrymandered me out of my right to vote in the Nov. 8 election!” he shouted.

“Calm down, Hub,” I said, knowing there’s no ledge in Amboy high enough for him to be talked off of. “You must be talking about Proposition 1.” This was a ballot measure that passed, preserving service by the local transit agency. “You didn’t get to vote because you’re not in C-Tran’s service district.”

“What?” Hamslockner thundered. “Since when?”

“Try to keep up here. Six years ago C-Tran redrew its service and taxation area and, as a result, 28,344 Clark County voters are no longer included.”

I heard a fist hit a table. “See! That’s gerrymandering! I was right!”

“Hub, you and other Amboyeurs were excluded because (1) C-Tran does not serve you and (2) the tax increase does not apply where you live.”

“OK, but I use C-Tran on occasion. Why shouldn’t I get to vote?”

“You also visit Seattle on occasion, but you don’t get to vote on their outrageous taxes on hotel rooms and rental cars. Visitors don’t have voting rights.”

“But look at how much Prop 1 impacts me as a shopper,” Hamslockner hollered. “Every time I go to the mall, I’ll have to pay this stupid tax increase. That’s why I should get to vote, and that’s why this is gerrymandering.”

“No, Hub, it’s not gerrymandering. Jeez-oh-Pete! Trust me, I’m from Texas! I know about gerrymandering. It’s where you draw a district that’s shaped like a barbell or an octopus, and you finesse the boundaries for the sole, corrupt purpose of favoring one political party or politician. What happened with C-Tran is simple: jurisdictional sovereignty.”

Letting the people govern

Hub stammered: “Juris — what?”

“My friend, every community has a right to govern itself independently. Look at Salmon Creek’s Three Creeks Library. Those folks wanted a library and were willing to pay for it by themselves. So they voted for it and built it. If you didn’t live in that district, you didn’t vote. Likewise, if Vancouver wants something and is willing to pay for it, why should Amboy stop ’em?”

“But that library issue was property tax, whereas Prop 1 is sales tax, and I’ll have to pay that increase at the mall.”

“That’s your fault, Hub, not C-Tran’s. I told you not to move to Amboy. Now you’re left with two choices: Shut up and accept it, or move into the C-Tran service district and become a voter. Hey, maybe even rake in some Madore Marionette Money and run for office!”

“But I like it in Amboy. And I still say I’ve been gerrymandered.”

“Stop digging, Hub. The more you talk, the more you lose this argument. Consider the 60,000 people who live in Clark County but work in Portland and have to pay Oregon state income tax. They didn’t get to vote on that, either, because of jurisdictional sovereignty.”

“OK, but why should people here get bullied by these local agencies?”

“Because the people here decided this is how it will be. Popularly elected legislators authorized the creation of subdistricts, and the rules for creating subdistricts are strict. You can’t blame C-Tran for following the law. In 2004, a C-Tran ballot measure failed with only 47 percent approval. After the service and taxation area was reduced, a similar measure passed with 68 percent approval. Also, a regional library ballot measure failed by three percentage points, but after a subdistrict was created in 2005, a similar measure passed by three percentage points.”

“Bingo! Gerrymandering!”

“No, dang it! It’s the voters having their way, and if you don’t live where the tax is increased — which, by the way, ought to make you happy — you don’t vote. What’s wrong with that?”

“I’m not sure, but there must be something wrong with it because I keep hearing people complain about it.”

“And the Hounds of Whinerville won’t be muzzled anytime soon, Hub. C-Tran will present another ballot measure next year. And if it fails, a high-capacity transit subdistrict probably will be created and another vote taken.”

“Uh-oh. High-capacity transit? Is that what I think it is?”

“Yep, we’re talking light rail, Hub. Hello? You still there? Hub? Hub?”