Editorials from Oregon newspapers. In some cases they have been edited for length.
Demographers are saying that Oregon's rate of population growth has been high enough since the 5th Congressional District was created in 1980 to justify additional representation in the U.S. House of Representatives. On average, Oregon has gained a House seat every 30 years since 1890, so the addition of a sixth after the Census of 2010 would fit the pattern. The pattern also suggests that drawing a new 6th District will be an intensely partisan exercise.
The boundaries of existing congressional districts are adjusted every 10 years, but those changes tend to be marginal. It's the addition of a new district that brings a wholesale redrawing of boundaries. The numbers suggest that Democrats won the upper hand in the reapportionment of 1980: The 5th District, which extends from the mid-Willamette Valley to the central Coast, has been in Democratic hands since 1991. Though Democrats have only a slight edge in voter registration, just one of Oregon's five House members is a Republican.
Ideally, political districts are geographically cohesive, covering areas where constituents share common interests. Yet three of Oregon's congressional districts have Portland or its suburbs as their centers of political gravity, which results in Newport being in the same district as Oregon City, Astoria sharing representation with Hillsboro, and the heavily urban 3rd District stretching from Portland to the crest of the Cascades.
The remaining two districts have more readily identifiable communities of interest - the 4th consists of the timbered counties of southwestern Oregon, and the 2nd covers Eastern Oregon. Yet even these districts have anomalies: Medford and Grants Pass are lumped together with Eastern Oregon in the 2nd District, while the 4th includes all of Josephine and Benton counties except their county seats, Grants Pass and Corvallis.
Both geographic and political factors lead to the creation of less-than-perfect districts. Eastern Oregon has slightly less than one-fifth of the state's population, so any district that covers the region must also include some territory west of the Cascades. And the Portland area contains the state's heaviest concentration of Democratic voters, which creates an overwhelming temptation for both parties: Democrats seek to split the Portland area among several districts, while Republicans dream of concentrating all those Democrats in a single district.
The addition of a sixth district won't make those factors go away. Eastern Oregon still won't have enough people to allow it to have a self-contained congressional district. Multnomah County contains just about a sixth of the state's population, but Clackamas and Washington counties will have to be combined with others. Coastal areas will continue to end up in districts dominated by inland voters, and any district covering Southern Oregon is likely to extend northward into the Willamette Valley.
An additional congressional seat will be a once-in-a-generation prize, to be awarded by the Legislature or, if it can't agree on a plan, by the secretary of state. The stakes in the legislative contests of 2010, and of this year's secretary of state race, have been raised by the demographers' prediction.