Nevadans Outline Stakes As Legislature Plans New Political Districts

CARSON CITY – The budget is not the only thing legislators are cutting this session.

Far from the budget tug-o-war that snags newspaper headlines, legislators this session must kingmaker carve the boundaries of congressional, senate and assembly districts that will remain for the next ten years, or the next five budget cycles.

Along the way, legislators have culled public opinion through several hours of hearings throughout the state. The overarching message from the people of Fallon, Reno, Carson City and Las Vegas is this: align communities with political districts.

In Las Vegas, representatives from several community groups stressed the need to keep the city’s various minority groups together.

The mayor of Mesquite submitted a letter asking legislators to unite Mesquite in one district. The city is currently split into different districts.

Several residents of Fallon asked legislators to preserve the rural flavor of their current districts. They asked legislators not to draw districts that would leave rural counties subsumed beneath larger voter majorities in Clark and Washoe counties.

“Where do we end up as far as the rural counties are concerned? Is most of our representation going to Washoe County?” asked Bob Johnston of Fallon.

One Person, One Vote

Johnston’s concerns arise from a shrinking rural population.

Nevada was the fastest-growing state in the nation during the past 10 years. The population hit 2.7 million, enough to give Nevada another Congressional seat.

Since much of the growth occurred in Clark County – almost three of every four Nevadans now live in Clark County – Northern Nevada stands to lose one state Senate seat to the south, as well as one or two Assembly seats.

Clark County already boasts 14 of the 21 total Senate seats and 29 of 42 total Assembly seats.

These calculations set the size for a district.

Rules For Redistricting

After that, a variety of U.S. Supreme Court decisions and federal laws also govern how the Legislature must draw its districts.

For instance, legislators must make districts as contiguous and compact as possible while also preserving “communities of interest.

These are communities that would benefit from having a reasonable chance to elect a representative who understands their issues.

This could be a rural community whose legislator may know about water rights and ranching.

Or a community of interest could be a Hispanic neighborhood in Las Vegas that would benefit from having a legislator who understands challenges specific to Hispanics.

Generally, legislators want to avoid “cracking” these communities in two, or “packing” them into one small district.

There are, of course, also political factors like protecting incumbents and drawing districts with certain candidates in mind. Testifying in Las Vegas, Ellen Spiegel, a former legislator, asked for the preservation of districts that have elected female legislators. Andrew Murphy, representing the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, noted that no district currently elects an Asian.

This combination of mathematics, geography, law and politics is enough to make anybody’s head spin.

“We hear words like ‘cracking, stacking and packing’ and understand that redistricting is a complicated process,” said Teresa Navarro, chairwoman of the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada, at a redistricting hearing in Reno.

Legislators have finished gathering public opinion about the districts. Now they will retreat to the Legislature, where they will draw maps at least partially based on the opinions they gathered in the field.

That is the idea, anyway.

Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said that the Legislature will hold some type of hearing after they release their maps.

In the cynic’s corner, others are unsure.

“Does it really matter?” asked Charlene Bybee at the Reno hearing. “Or is it something that you do because you have to and it is more of a show that you’re not going to consider sincerely when you’re making your decision?”