The Clark County Council’s proposed redistricting map is a self-serving document that sidesteps the will of voters in favor of ensuring sitting councilors can continue to fall back on incumbency.
To recap: In November, 71 percent of voters approved increasing Clark County Council districts from four to five. That included tentative approval of a new map. But the map preferred by voters put three councilors — all Republicans — in the same district. One of them, Eileen Quiring O’Brien, has since departed. But that left Council Chair Karen Bowerman and Councilor Julie Olson in the same district.
This led to great consternation. Councilor Gary Medvigy argued the Charter Review Commission deliberately moved the three Republicans into the same district when it drew the new map. Charter panel co-chair Chuck Green denies any ulterior motive, saying the panel followed the voters’ will and state law. As he explained to The Columbian’s Shari Phiel:
“When we put that map together last year, knowing there was a possibility that we were putting three current sitting councilors in the same district, we also recognized there’s a provision in state law that says population data may not be used for purposes of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party. At the time, those (council) positions were partisan, and we determined that moving those lines around would have been gerrymandering.”
The council then directed county staff to develop a map that keeps the four current members in their districts. This, it was reasoned, respects the will of the voters who cast their ballots for them.
On Wednesday, the council voted 3-1 to put its Council Alternative 1 map up for public review. The dissenting vote came from Councilor Temple Lentz, the council’s only Democrat, who argued it was inappropriate for the councilors to set the boundaries for their own districts. She suggested county staff create a new district map that the council would vote to either accept or reject.
“It’s important to remember that redistricting is about voters, not about who runs for office. This map needs to serve us for 10 years so we should be trying to create a solid process and base our decisions on a solid process that benefits the electorate,” Lentz said.
Then she hit the nail on the head: “We are now on the record of putting personal political ambitions over public benefit.”
Medvigy said removing councilors from their districts “wasn’t something the public knowingly voted for or intended.”
But if voters read the Charter Review Commission’s statement in the 2021 Voters’ Pamphlet, we think they understood perfectly well that districts might shift for one or more councilors. It read, in part: “While much of this growth has occurred in north and east county, our elected representation has not: all five County Councilors and all fifteen Charter Review Commissioners live south of 179th Street. Half of our geography and 20 percent of Clark County’s population is represented by a councilor living half a county away.”
We interpret that to mean to more equitably apportion the councilor-constituents ratio, some boundaries had to change.
It’s disappointing the Clark County Council is apparently more interested in ensuring incumbents hold on to their seats than it is in addressing some of the county’s most pressing problems, particularly the sheriff’s office’s staffing shortages. We will argue voters are more concerned about there being enough deputies to answer calls for help than if two members of the same political party must compete for a single council seat.