The redistricting map proposed by Clark County Council is a self-serving document that circumvents the will of voters in favor of ensuring sitting councilors can continue to fall back on their duties.
To recap: In November, 71% of voters approved increasing Clark County Council districts from four to five. This included tentative approval of a new map. But voters’ favorite map put three councilors — all Republicans — in the same district. One of them, Eileen Quiring O’Brien, has since left. But that left council chairwoman Karen Bowerman and councilwoman Julie Olson in the same district.
This caused great consternation. Councilman Gary Medvigy argued that the Charter Review Commission deliberately moved the three Republicans to the same district when it drew the new map. Charter panel co-chair Chuck Green denies any ulterior motives, saying the panel followed the will of voters and state law. As he explained to Shari Phiel of The Columbian:
“When we put together this map last year, knowing that we might put three current serving councilors in the same district, we also recognized that there is a provision in state law that says that demographic data cannot be used for the purpose of favoring or disfavoring any racial group or political party.At the time, these (council) positions were partisan, and we determined that moving these lines would have been gerrymandering.
The board then asked county staff to develop a map that keeps the current four members in their districts. This, it was reasoned, respects the will of the voters who voted for them.
On Wednesday, the council voted 3 to 1 to submit its Council’s Alternative 1 map for public scrutiny. The dissenting vote came from Councilman Temple Lentz, the council’s only Democrat, who argued that it was inappropriate for councilors to set the boundaries of their own districts. She suggested that county staff create a new district map that the council would vote to accept or reject.
“It is important to remember that redistricting is about the voters, not the person running for office. This card is to serve us for 10 years, so we should try 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 known for putting personal political ambitions ahead of the public good.”
Medvigy said the removal of councilors from their districts “was not something the public knowingly voted for or anticipated.”
But if voters read the statement from the Charter Review Commission in the 2021 voters brochure, we think they fully understood that districts could change for one or more councillors. It read, in part: “While much of this growth has occurred in the north and east of the county, our elected representation has not: the five county councilors and fifteen charter review live south of 179th street. Half of our geography and 20% of Clark County’s population is represented by a councilor living half a county away.
We interpret this to mean that in order to distribute the councilor-to-voters ratio more evenly, some limits had to change.
It’s disappointing that Clark County Council is apparently more interested in making sure incumbents keep their seats than in addressing some of the county’s most pressing issues, particularly the sheriff’s office staffing shortages. We will argue that voters are more concerned about there being enough MPs to answer cries for help than if two members of the same political party have to compete for a single council seat.