HELENA – Legislative leaders are preparing to appoint a panel that will draw the boundaries for Montana’s legislative districts, action that will influence political control of the state for the next decade.
The Districting and Apportionment Commission draws the boundaries every 10 years.
Republicans still are disturbed by work of the 2000 commission, controlled 3-2 by Democrats. Commissioners redrew districts in ways that Republicans thought favored Democrats unfairly. Those districts took effect in 2004 and are in place until 2012.
Appointment of four of the five commissioners is set for next week.
Senate Majority Leader Jim Peterson, R-Buffalo, has suggested that Democrats and Republicans each nominate several choices for the commission and allow the public to comment on those choices.
“I just think it sets the right tone,” he said at a Capitol meeting on Monday.
Senate Minority Leader Carol Williams, D-Missoula, and House Majority Leader Margarett Campbell, D-Poplar, said they see no need to alter the procedure as outlined in the Montana Constitution and as carried out previously, with leaders simply naming four of the five members rather than making nominations.
State law says Republican and Democratic leaders in the Legislature, prior to the U.S. Census, each may select two commissioners. Those four members then choose the fifth member, who becomes the chairman. If the four appointees cannot agree on a fifth member within 20 days, the Montana Supreme Court chooses the chairman.
In 1999, the Supreme Court chose Janine Pease, then of Lodge Grass, a college administrator with a background in voting-rights issues. She became a swing vote, joining the commission’s other two Democrats on key votes to redraw the districts.
Since 2004, Democrats have controlled the Senate for two out of three Legislatures. The House has been split 50-50 twice. Republicans controlled it during the other legislative session.
Peterson said he still plans to nominate more than one person for his choice on the commission and will allow public comment. He said he’ll narrow his selection next week.
Campbell said she will name her choice after Peterson picks his final appointee. Williams then will choose her pick. House Minority Leader Scott Sales, R-Bozeman, will make the final selection.
Sales said Monday that he likes Peterson’s idea of naming more than one possible pick and having the public comment.
“I think the more open the process, the better,” Sales said.