Current Idaho congressional district map

This map shows Idaho’s current congressional districts; the dividing line cuts through Boise and Ada County.

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For the past half-century, Ada County, the state’s largest population center, has been split between the state’s two congressional districts, diminishing its residents’ influence in any individual congressional race. But what if that were to change?

The state’s bipartisan citizens redistricting commission has developed two draft maps for new congressional districts in Idaho, which it will present at five public hearings in the Treasure Valley this week; additional public hearings will follow around the state. One keeps the dividing line between Idaho’s 1st and 2nd congressional districts cutting through Boise, simply shifting it to the west to reflect population shifts. That’s what’s happened every 10 years for the last 50 now.

The other offers a different approach: It creates a new congressional district for the Treasure Valley, by carving out a big rectangle from the southwestern quadrant of the state to be Idaho’s new 1st District, while the new 2nd District would take in the rest of the state – including all of North Idaho and eastern Idaho.

“I would be dishonest if I led anybody to believe that I support just a Treasure Valley district, I don’t,” said Bart Davis, co-chair of the citizens commission. “But I also think that we owe it to the public to include it, so that people can understand that there is a different way to divide the state, and get the public input.”

Said Dan Schmidt, the panel’s other co-chair, “The congressional plan might have more interest than it has in the past because of this. In the past, we have split Ada County, and maybe we don’t – maybe that isn’t the right way to go. But I think it’ll be interesting to hear public input.”

Redistricting commissioners are forbidden by law from taking into account any partisan political considerations – including the fate of incumbent legislators or congressmen – when they draw new legislative and congressional district maps. But a change like this one could have earthshaking effects in Idaho politics.

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Wednesday's edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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