CASPER – With about a month remaining before the budget session, questions are being asked of the Corporations Committee members of their unity and ability to all agree on a certain plan.
The meeting on Wednesday in Casper featured talks of possibly requiring the Big Horn Basin Region to stay within the 5% deviation of the target population for each district despite the committee generally agreeing to allow an exception based on the large geographical region with a limited population.
Rep. Joe MacGuire, R-Casper, called the exception a mistake, while co-chairman Sen. Ogden Driskill, R-Devil’s Tower, said he was worried of the direction the committee was going.
“We have talked about this since meeting one and the committee had agreed that we were going to submit a plan out of deviation and here we are six, seven, eight meetings later recreating the wheel and starting over again,” Driskill said.
Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, who is the only legislator on the committee from the Big Horn region echoed Driskill’s comments and said they are willing to go within deviation, but they need to know soon.
“If the whole plan for the state hinged upon the Basin being within deviation and that had been our direction, we would have came back with it,” Greear said.
Ultimately the motion failed keeping the Basin’s lines the same.
While many legislators in and out of the committee requested for a consensus among the members on a decision, most of the motions during the meeting passed with the narrowest majority.
The east side of the state has experienced many iterations of district lines especially in Goshen County. The committee recently passed a map allowing Weston County to stay whole which sent a ripple effect down the eastern border including Goshen County having to share its southern population with Laramie County.
Rep. Shelly Duncan presented a regional map to fix the county’s district lines to stay within deviation but admitted no one in the county liked the plan based on the current statewide draft.
“This is not one that we chose. This is not one that our clerk or our county commissioners chose,” Duncan said. “But in order to fit within deviation of what the committee voted on and chose this is the best that fits.”
The plan split the county into two with Torrington, Lingle and Fort Laramie staying with the northern part of the county, while South Torrington all the way to 10 miles outside of Cheyenne would be the new House District 10.
Michael Swank with Legislative Service Office (LSO) added the “lynchpin” for the entire plan in the eastern region was Weston staying whole.
Although the plan was approved, the eastern side of the state saw more changes during the meeting due to the controversially named “I-80 compromise” presented by Sen. Brian Boner, R-Douglas. The plan involves 18 house districts in eight different counties along the western and southern border of the state staying just outside of Goshen County.
Senate Minority Floor Leader Chris Rothfuss, D-Laramie, and House Minority Floor Leader Cathy Connolly, D-Laramie, expressed concern over the plan and the word “compromise” since Albany County’s region would not remain whole despite being so for most of the redistricting process.
There was also hesitancy by some committee members to vote in favor of the plan without seeing the specific changes which would be made to the eastern districts including in Goshen County. Duncan proposed plugging in an older map which featured the diagonal line plan for Goshen right above Torrington, Lingle and Fort Laramie and subsequently splitting Weston.
The committee passed the new plan by an 8-6 vote but almost saw a reverse in decision when Driskill called for a reconsideration of the vote due to initially voting in favor with the belief Weston would still remain whole.
The committee ultimately decided to adopt a section of a previous compilation map with the diagonal split and Weston divided in two districts similar to the current state map with another 8-6 vote.
The I-80 compromise continues to divide committee members, other legislators and the public as it was even characterized to be more damaging than helpful by Speaker of the House Eric Barlow, R-Gillette, who has asked the committee to give a clear direction for them to follow.
The new plan now requires many representatives and senators to go back to redrawing lines with their county clerks in hopes of establishing a final state plan.
The next Corporations meeting is Jan. 27 in Cheyenne.