CHEYENNE — Lawmakers assigned the task of redistricting the Wyoming Legislature approved a plan to meet population shifts Tuesday but left open the possibility of further changes.
Members of the Legislature’s Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee directed the Legislative Service Office staff to draft a bill that realigns and “nests” the House districts in the Senate districts.
The committee will deal with the redistricting proposal again Jan. 19 in Cheyenne in preparation for its introduction at the 2012 budget session that opens in February.
As it stands now, the plan has one known internal conflict — it places Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, and Sen. Wayne Johnson, R-Cheyenne, in the same district.
The committee chairman, Sen. Cale Case, R-Lander, and Rep. Pete Illoway, R-Cheyenne, decided to ask Attorney General Greg Phillips how to handle that problem, given the legal ramifications.
Johnson’s seat is up for election next year, while Meier’s term doesn’t end until January 2015.
The committee also held off deciding whether all 30 senators must run for election next year, or only the 15 whose terms are expiring. Illoway said the committee isn’t sure whether the new redistricting plan and its boundaries affects any other of the 15 senators whose terms don’t expire for two more years.
The redistricting plan, reflecting the expansion required for population growth, extends Johnson’s Cheyenne district in eastern Laramie County into southern Goshen County where Meier lives.
The committee voted down an alternative proposal by Meier on Tuesday morning.
He claims the committee’s plan splits Goshen County 3 ways.
“You’re disenfranchising 15,000 voters in Goshen County,” he said.
Meier is expected to present another alternate plan to the committee in January.
Also expected are changes in the plan for southwest Wyoming.
Star Valley residents have petitioned the committee to leave their Mormon-dominated area of 13 communities intact.
Rep. Jim Roscoe, D-Wilson, who amended the plan in an attempt to do that, said it doesn’t give Star Valley enough territory to the north.
The plan also puts Kemmerer into the same district with Afton “and that’s a problem,” Roscoe said Tuesday.
“You almost need another district in there,” Roscoe said of Lincoln County. “Where do you put it?”
To meet the “one-man, one vote” principle and accommodate a 14 percent population growth, each of the state’s 30 Senate districts should include about 18,800 people while each of the 60 House districts should include half that number.
Because Sublette and Campbell Counties grew significantly between 2000 and 2010, districts that now represent those counties will have to “shed” excess population.
This caused a rippling effect in southwest Wyoming from Sublette County south, while Campbell County’s growth has affected northeastern Wyoming and districts further south as well.
Committee members for the most part said they did the best job they could given the complexities and barriers.
“I believe we’ve tried as hard as we can to fairly distribute our representatives among our population and to hit the standards we have,” said Rep. Gregg Blikre, R-Gillette.
“It’s not a perfect science and it’s really not just political, not just drawing the lines, it’s personal. It’s a gut-wrenching experience,” he added.
Rep. John Patton, R-Sheridan, said the committee work began with a spirit that the legislators were to forget who was up for election.
“We go along for six months and carry that banner and that flag and here we come in December and we say personal politics is equally important, and it’s not,” Patton said.