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Recently, House Speaker Scott Bedke proclaimed that members in the Idaho house were concerned with the size of the state legislative districts to be created after the next census. He suggested a plan to keep the system the same but add more districts. Such a change would require an amendment to the Idaho constitution. Another approach, splitting house districts, could be done by the redistricting commission without changing the constitution. Each current district would still elect one senator but would be split equally into two separate districts to elect representatives from each district.

There are many beneficial reasons for this plan including:

1) Representation

Representation is more effective with smaller districts. Smaller districts tend to include a population of citizens with similar views and policy preferences. Their representative can more accurately reflect the views of constituents when voting on legislation. If the districts cover too much territory, it is difficult for representatives to be in close contact with their constituents.

2) Electoral

A candidate who is not well funded but runs an effective grass roots campaign can have an opportunity to be successful in smaller districts. Local groups can have a greater effect on campaigns in districts that include fewer voters. Smaller districts open up the democratic process to more people.

3) Minorities

Large districts dilute the influence of minorities. With more and smaller districts, the Hispanic community can have more influence. In Canyon County, under this proposed plan, one can create a district that is at least 40% Hispanic. Though the above example relates to Hispanics, a similar argument can be made for any minority in the state including farmers, ranchers, or Native Americans.

4) Bicameralism

Currently, the Idaho state legislature, with each chamber having the same terms and districts, is in effect a unicameral legislature. Providing house members with a smaller constituency enables them to have a different representative viewpoint from their colleagues in the senate. A legislature can represent more views and perspectives if the districts of the two chambers are different. With a true bicameral legislature, the chambers also provide a check against each other to help ensure against legislation that is detrimental to particular sections of the population.

5) Enabling Legislation

The legislation enacting the constitutional amendment for the redistricting commission supports splitting House districts. Idaho Code 72-1506 under “Criteria Governing Plans” notes “to the maximum extent possible, districts shall preserve traditional neighborhoods and local communities of interest.” One interpretation of this clause would prohibit plans that put traditional neighborhoods and communities of interest into large districts where their influence is submerged within the larger community. The splitting of House districts is the means that traditional neighborhoods and communities of interest can be sustained “to the maximum extent possible.”

Summing up:

-Rural areas also could have their own representative and not be conjoined with an urban area to obtain the needed population. Rural interests would be more effectively represented in the house with split districts.

-Candidates with limited financial backing would be advantaged since a low-cost grass roots campaign could be successful.

-The representatives would be aided in their ability to represent their constituents with smaller, more homogeneous districts.

-The people of Idaho as a whole are helped, as they would be closer to their representatives. This would allow the people to have greater influence with their representative.

Before changing the constitution, this more practical plan should be considered.

Dr. Jasper LiCalzi is a professor in the Department of Political Economy at the College of Idaho and the author of the book, “Idaho Politics and Government: Culture Clash and Conflicting Values in the Gem State.”

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