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Jan. 16, 2022

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In Our View: County council out of bounds with redistricting

The Columbian

In a kerfuffle over redistricting maps, the Clark County Council has overstepped its bounds, violated political norms and demonstrated the dangers of conflicting interests. In particular, Chair Eileen Quiring O’Brien has engaged in an egregious power play that undermines the very foundation of democracy.

As a matter of political minutiae, this requires a bit of explanation. But while the details are intricate, the result is a county council working not for the benefit of the public but for control of the local Republican Party and for a stranglehold on Clark County governance.

Under state law, Clark County must appoint a committee to draw new districts for county council elections following the 2020 U.S. Census. The council currently has representatives from four districts, plus a chair selected in a countywide at-large vote. An item on the Tuesday ballot — Proposition 3 — would change the makeup to five districts.

To select the redistricting committee, according to the county charter, the council appoints “two from each major political party from a list of five submitted by the party’s central committee.” A fifth member is selected by appointees to serve as chair.

The charter does not specify how nominees are chosen by the parties. That is where Quiring O’Brien, a Republican, took a dictatorial approach to the process.

After the Clark County Republican Party submitted five nominees, Quiring O’Brien sent a text to party chair Joel Mattila saying, “You need to cancel the vote and call a meeting!!” She added, “You have your marching orders you do the right thing!” The county council rejected the list of candidates.

Quiring O’Brien wanted the party’s 200-plus precinct committee officers to choose the nominees, rather than party leadership. Quiring O’Brien is a PCO and immediate past vice chair of the Clark County Republican Party. Fellow Councilor Karen Bowerman also is a PCO and the wife of Earl Bowerman, immediate past president of the county party.

After a second list of names also was rejected by the county council, the Republican Party submitted nominees that were acceptable to councilors.

County Councilor Julie Olson, also a Republican, said during a council meeting, “I don’t know that it’s our role to get into how they operate their party business.”

Indeed, it is not. And such decorum on the part of Olson is most welcome amid Republican infighting that has infected Clark County politics.

Although county council positions are partisan, with candidates running under the banner of a particular party, councilors represent all the people of Clark County. Council members should not be involved in the machinations of one party or the other, and they certainly should not wield their power to intimidate the party they represent.

Quiring O’Brien has consistently failed to understand the difference between being an elected official and an apparatchik, and her influence over the redistricting commission is a blatant abuse of power. Mattila, the local Republican chair, told The Columbian: “They ultimately imposed their will on another organization.”

Unfortunately, the action could be a harbinger of the process to replace state Sen. Ann Rivers, a Republican who represents the 18th Legislative District. Rivers is resigning from the Legislature, and the county council will select a replacement from a list submitted by the local Republican Party.

Quiring O’Brien should allow Republican leaders to do their jobs while she focuses on hers. Judging by her history, she has little understanding of the differences between the two.