State representatives and local election officials are trying to sort out how Klamath County's house districts will change once a new state legislative map goes into effect in 2022.
But one thing is certain: Local officeholders will soon have new titles.
As part of the redistricting, led by Democratic-controlled 2020 Legislature in Salem, the two Oregon House districts that cover Klamath County — districts 55 and 56 — will change dramatically. In the most basic explanation, the newly-drawn District 55 would cover parts of Klamath and Deschutes counties while District 56 would stretch across parts of Klamath and Jackson counties.
That change — if it survives legal review — will push current Klamath County representatives Werner Reschke and Vikki Breese-Iverson into new districts. The new map would also create an unoccupied District 56, which will be filled with a new representative in the 2022 election.
Rep. Reschke said the redrawn maps, which he described as gerrymandering, is due to the self-interested nature of politics: Democrats are in control of the Legislature and they drew maps that benefit Democrats.
“You have self-interested people carving up the state for themselves and that’s not good for Oregon,” he said.
The new map slices Klamath Falls in half — placing the east side of town in District 55, which will also include most of eastern and northern Klamath County. Klamath Falls proper and the western edge of town will be in District 56. That district will also include south and west Klamath County and much of eastern Jackson County.
Currently, Rep. Breese-Iverson represents District 55, which for now contains Crook and parts of Deschutes, Jackson, Klamath and Lake counties. Rep. Reschke's District 56 covers parts of Klamath and Lake counties.
With the remapped districts, Reschke would live in District 55 and would have to run in 2022 to fill that seat. Breese-Iverson would live in District 59, which is currently represented by Republican Daniel Bonham. And District 56 would receive a new state representative next year in an open race without an incumbent, according to Klamath County Clerk Rochelle Long.
Long said that Klamath County has always been split into two districts, and the current redistricting plan won't change that. Klamath County will continue to maintain two seats at the statehouse, though the current specifics are still in legal limbo.
Currently, the redistricting process and the final maps are being challenged by Republicans. Those challenges can be filed to the Oregon Supreme Court until Oct. 25, Long said.
Reschke, who has been vocal about his opposition to the redistricting, called the remapping of the districts a solidification of Democratic power.
He said there is a lot of broken trust between Republicans and Democrats in the Legislature, mainly due to House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, reneging on a deal to grant the GOP an equal say in new congressional and legislative maps.
For Reschke, keeping Klamath County together in one district makes the most sense, for more than one reason. Klamath County has just the right population (roughly 70,000 people, the amount required to form a congressional district) and Reschke said having one representative would help streamline discussions about complicated water issues.
"Our goal was to unify Klamath County and the Klamath Basin watershed into one district to help promote water discussions," Reschke said in a statement Oct. 2. "The new maps keep Klamath County and the Klamath Basin watershed divided in two."
Moving forward, Reschke hopes an independent commission would be empowered to make future redistricting decisions. He said the commission would need to be politically balanced and representative of different regions of the state.
“They are done in other states,” Reschke said. “And they seem to work well, and you don’t hear about gerrymandering in these states.”
Rep. Breese-Iverson also believes an independent commission should have power over redistricting.
“I think the commission should have a larger assortment of people from around the state that represent it,” Breese-Iverson said. “You have to look at who lives in Oregon, and how do we get those people to represent this people’s commission.”
— Reporter Joe Siess can be reached at (541) 885-4481 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @jomsiess
The Associated Press contributed to this report.