DOUGLAS — State lawmakers tasked with overseeing the once-in-a-decade redistricting process developed a schedule Wednesday for the remainder of their work.
The Joint Committee on Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions agreed to meet in mid-November and then again in December, likely in Cheyenne. The committee is aiming to have a bill with the final redistricted map by January.
A lot needs to happen before then.
The public has until the first couple days of November to submit their own maps through an online portal hosted by the state, whether they’re drawing out specific regions or the state as a whole. However, Committee Co-Chair Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devils Tower, said he’d look at map submissions well into November. Driskill’s enthusiasm for using public entries has been evident throughout the summer meetings and into the fall.
At a previous meeting, the committee agreed to set up an online portal — at a cost of roughly $40,000 — for Wyomingites to submit their own maps. Committee members will consider those submissions while drawing the map that they bring to the full Legislature during the legislative budget session that starts Feb. 14.
In the committee’s August meeting, its members voted to address the process of redistricting on a regional level and appointed regional representatives to communicate with the Legislature about redistricting.
The regional representatives, who were appointed specifically for redistricting, have until the December meeting to come up with a map for their area.
To create these smaller scale maps, lawmakers and county officials have been meeting to receive public input to address the more local interests from communities around the state. Regional representatives will still continue to hold the public meetings, the dates of which can be found on the Wyoming Legislature’s website.
Representatives for all 10 of the redistricting regions testified before the committee Wednesday in Douglas. They spoke about what they had gathered so far from their public meetings.
The committee heard a couple key points from the regional testimony. The Bighorn Basin, which shrunk by roughly one representative, is still causing the most difficulties in redistricting. The other interesting information came out of region seven, which committee member Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas, represents in the redistricting process.
During the last redistricting in 2011, some lawmakers were accused of drawing suspect lines in their own districts to help bolster their election chances, including the border-jumping line to include a prison in Senate District 6.
The aftershocks of those allegedly politically motivated lines are still being felt.
People at the recent meetings expressed “legitimate trust issues” about the demarcations, Boner said. ”The bitter taste is still left in people’s mouths,” he added.
That said, he felt there was substantial support for the map he drew up for the region.
After hearing from representatives for the regions, Committee Co-Chair Rep. Dan Zwonitzer, R-Cheyenne, proposed his own preliminary map that would decrease the number of Senators in the Legislature. But Sen. Charlie Scott, R-Casper, pointed out that such an approach would likely not pass the Senate because of the cut to his colleagues’ seats.
Since the last census, Wyoming grew by just over 13,000 people or roughly 2.3%, which was the slowest in the West. Nine counties increased population, while 14 counties declined. Natrona County increased by 4,505 people or 6%.
Laramie County, home to Cheyenne, Wyoming’s capital and largest city, saw a huge rise in population compared to the rest of the state. Star Valley in Lincoln County experienced significant growth, while the nearby Sublette County lost the largest proportion of its population. Those changes may shift the number of lawmakers for those areas.
With that in mind, the Wyoming Constitution requires that the House must have at least twice the number of members as the Senate.
The state lost residents in its rural areas, which makes redistricting difficult because those are huge swaths of land with few people in them. That landscape forces lawmakers to represent people in sections of multiple counties with starkly different interests, several committee members said at a previous meeting.
Former Corporations committee member Rep. Hans Hunt, who resigned his House seat last week to join Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ staff in D.C., is an example of one of these lawmakers.
Hunt represented parts of Weston, Goshen and Niobrara counties in House District 2. He will be replaced on the corporations committee by a sitting lawmaker — likely a senior representative from a region that’s underrepresented on the committee, Zwonitzer told the Star-Tribune. Hunt’s replacement should be announced within the next couple weeks.
Follow state politics reporter Victoria Eavis on Twitter @Victoria_Eavis